It's a small place tucked away in a Myrtle Beach strip mall. It's not advertised on TV or in magazines, it's the kind of place people hear about from someone else. Perhaps because the Veterans Cafe & Grille is little less about the "cafe and grille" and a little more about the veterans.
Military uniforms, hats, medals, flags, banners, photographs, patches, signs, and bumper stickers cover the walls and ceiling. It’s a place of honor and reverence in a warm and welcoming “come on in and eat” kind of setting.
“Everything in here has been donated by customers,” owner Lou Mascherino explained. Lou is an army vet who served from 1976 to 1978. He and his wife Rhonda opened the cafe about six years ago.
“When we first opened back in '09, my wife put a note on the back of the menus asking for 5x7 photographs of family members that served in the military. We wanted to hang ‘em on our wall of heroes. We didn’t get many 5x7’s," he said with a smile," but we got a whole bunch of other stuff.”
I had more questions, but the lunch crowd was starting to arrive and Lou is both the owner and the cook.
“Don’t let me cause you to burn anything,” I told him.
“You won’t,” he said and tilted his head toward the kitchen. “I’m listening.”
“Can you tell me a little bit about some of what you have here?
“We've got everything, everything. We've got things from World War I all the way up to the present day - uniform-wise. We have a lot of things from the Vietnam-era. The majority of my customers are probably Vietnam War veterans.”
I glanced up at the walls trying to make a mental list of some of what I saw. A Purple Heart caught my eye.
Later, I spoke with several Vietnam vets, one - George Bontya - who pointed out a few of his own items on the wall. There were older and younger vets here, some eating lunch at the counter, others at some of the tables. Lou came out, greeted most of them by name, and took time to talk when he wasn’t cooking.
A couple of vets told me that while the restaurant serves breakfast and lunch six days a week (it's closed on Sunday), it also hosts veterans meetings, events, and get-togethers at other times. And Lou and his wife are constantly planning and organizing projects and fundraisers to help veterans, or support someone else helping veterans.
I asked Lou why he devotes so much time to a business that's clearly more about the people than the profit.
“This is a place of remembrance. It’s out of respect to all veterans. To all who never made it home and to the ones who did.”
For those who did come home, he wanted to provide a place they could relax, feel comfortable, and spend time with others who share a common bond.
“They can talk here, ” he said. "They can open up and tell their stories to each other. That’s the only time they’ll talk is to another veteran. It’s part of their healing process.”
Lou knows what most veterans know, that the military is a special kind of family. And families (the goods ones) take care of each other.
While the café caters to Veterans – everyone is welcome is here.
And the food’s pretty good, too.
The Veterans Café & Grille is open Monday through Friday 7am to 2pm and Saturday 7am to Noon. It’s located at 3544 Northgate Drive, Myrtle Beach, SC. (843-232-8387)