The pie lady had a problem. And she was venting.
In her calm, but firm voice, Ollie Pearl Gore explained she didn’t like anyone going into her pots. Somebody, who shall remain unnamed, had sneaked food she prepared for patrons from the pots at Hoskins Restaurant.
Gore stressed to Tina Yates, one of the eatery’s owners, that customers should get the fixings she cooked, not staff.
The okra, field peas, potato salad, coleslaw, buttered corn, lima beans, pasta salad, and other sensational sides are not designated for the staff’s teeth. Period.
“They shouldn’t be in my pots, right,” Gore said, as serious as a judge announcing a criminal’s sentence.
“You’re right,” Yates said, slightly amused by Gore’s gentle, but unmistakable sassy declaration. “You’re right.”
For the last 21 years, Gore, 65, has baked pies and cooked sides at this North Myrtle Beach Restaurant now in its 68th year of business. She also prepares the barbecue chicken and banana pudding.
“She is alright about 99.99 percent of the time, but if you get that 0.1percent, you are in trouble,” said Lenton Yates between giggles. He is Yates’ husband and Hoskins’ co-owner.
Gore is one of the most popular people here at 450 Main St. Her tenacity, spunk, commitment, and certified soul food skills are among the golden characteristics.
“I call this ‘Ollie’s Kitchen’ because she has been here longer than anybody else, besides me and Tina,’’ Lenton Yates said while standing in the kitchen observing the happenings.
Hoskins is where a vast number of folks from North Myrtle Beach and nearby regions come for country cooking that is consistently spot-on.
As he spoke, Gore busied herself with making a heaping mound of coleslaw, with a hair net snuggly on her head and a white apron fastened securely around her. She worked in silence and with speed. There was cabbage, carrots, sugar, secret seasonings, green pickle relish, and gargantuan gobs of Duke’s Mayonnaise. She makes it with ease, as she does with everything else.
Gore’s caramel-colored hands, which are smooth like satin and soft like marshmallow puffs, are so astute with making gastronome gifts that her daughter, Yolanda Gore, gets bombarded by acquaintances and strangers that have somehow figured out her mama works at Hoskins.
“Oh my gosh,” Yolanda Gore said, “they will ask me what the specials are for the day, and they want to know what are the pies for the day.”
Her mama also gets her share of inquiries, along with fanfare.
“Whenever I go to see my doctor, Dr. Chuck Mills in Loris, he always tells me how good the food is,” Ollie Pearl Gore said. “He says he is trying to keep me well so I can keep working there.”
Minor burns are tattooed on various parts of her arms in an array of sizes and shapes – one is nearly a perfect square, while most are a hodgepodge of thin and thick lines. Often, Gore, who has diabetes, doesn’t realize she has been burned at work until she goes to her Brooksville community home, where a hot shower makes the reality known. That is why Dr. Mills gives her a special cream, which she keeps in her pocket, to apply to the burns.
Ollie Pearl Gore sideswiped scorches to her skin when she began cooking full-fledge meals at about 14.
“I just love cooking,’’ said Gore, who is also a caterer, after making chocolate and peanut butter pies. “It’s my hobby.”
She is always one of the main cooks at her family gatherings.
Yet when she first came to Hoskins, cooking wasn’t a part of her gig. She was in the 11 th or 12 th grade at Chestnut Consolidated High School, an all-black school that served children in the Brooksville community and other surrounding areas in Horry County, when she got to see a restaurant kitchen up close. That was when Tina Yates’ grandparents, Hubert and Leona Hoskins, owned and operated the restaurant. They founded Hoskins in 1948, and it has remained a family-owned entity.
“I was helping washing dishes,” she said. “Well, I was mostly playing, but I also helped shell butter beans, field peas, and I shucked corn.”
She found herself back at Hoskins many years later after she became a babysitter for the Yates’ youngest son, Forrest. After keeping him at night, Gore would go to work in the morning.
Tina Yates gets emotional at the thought of Gore’s presence in her life, especially at Hoskins. They have spent tons of time together, including early on when Yates taught her how to make the delectable pies that have been in the Hoskins’ family for generations. Gore’s arrival at Hoskins not only got her off of pie detail, but it caused them both to develop a deeper affection for one another.
“I admire her a lot,” Tina Yates said, doing her best to keep the tears from sliding down her face. “I don’t know how she does it. She has been here for 21 years, and in those 21 years, she has only missed one day. And she always arrives early.”
She stopped talking then and stared across the kitchen, where Gore was wiping down a workspace. After a moment, she began again with eyes now red from fresh tears.
“I know there are days when she comes in here and she doesn’t feel great, but you would never know it because she never complains,” Tina Yates said. “She is diabetic, and Lenton and I are always checking on her to make sure she is taking her medicine and that she is OK.”
Gore is fine. She doesn’t let her body stop her from taking care of business, at work or at home.
Plus, she plans to stick around at Hoskins and for good reasons – she needs the money and she loves the people for whom she works, folks she calls friends.
“Lenton and Tina are good to me,’’ she said. “They are nice. They don’t get on my back. They tell me what they want me to do, and then they get out of my way. Everybody in here knows they better not mess with me too much because Tina and Lenton will get mad.”
“I would hate to be at this joint without Ollie,” said Lenton Yates, who also calls her “Big Mama.” “I look after Ollie, and she looks after me. She helps Hoskins stay happy.”
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.
Hoskins Restaurant, 450 Main St. in North Myrtle Beach, is open from Tuesday through Sunday. Call (843) 249-2014.