Just months after opening its third location, Joe Loves Lobster Rolls, a local restaurant known for the popularity of its lobster rolls and original food cart, has closed its doors on Boundary Street in Beaufort, according to owner Tony Herndon.
Herndon said he closed the North of the Broad River store in early September because of issues with the location and hiring staff.
“It was the worst move I could have possibly made,” he said.
Before moving into the former Burlap Cafe, Bakery and Gifts, Herndon said he originally wanted to open a restaurant in downtown Beaufort after noticing the area’s restaurant scene, foot traffic and tourism. When he looked into opening Joe Loves Lobster Rolls’ on Craven Street where there are plans to build a 496-space parking garage, his landlord, 303 Associates LLC, offered him the spot at the Quality Inn instead.
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Herndon said the restaurant was supposed to be open in December 2015, but he wasn’t handed the keys until July of this year, something he refers to as “a death nail in the middle of the summer.” He said he even had plans to expand the restaurant to include a larger dining room he once described as a place for parties, receptions and overflow room, but because of hiring difficulties, he couldn’t get enough employees to work the space.
“That was the problem,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done it, because I didn’t want to be there. Downtown would have offered me, you know, locals, that can afford (the food). It would have helped me with tourism, people walking by. That’s where I wanted to be.”
But the new venture in Beaufort isn’t the only closure for Herndon. He said he also had to close his location on Whitmarsh Island in Georgia in September after a quick change in sales.
“We did very well for the first two months,” he said. “And then all of a sudden, back to school hit and our sales went from ... $1,500 to $200 a day overnight. And it never recovered.”
Closing both locations was a judgment call that needed to be made, Herndon said. But he also said lessons have been learned.
“I have to do my due diligence more,” he said. “I have to, you know, really consider where I am and the demographic that can support me more. Like (in Okatie), we’re going into our third year here, and people stop here religiously from around the world (and) from all over the country, because they’ve heard of me. They make it part of their itinerary when they’re down here; they go miles and miles out of their way to get here.”
In the future, Herndon said he has no intentions of expanding his business in the Lowcountry but hopes to bring lobster rolls farther South and Southwest. He said he’ll target locations near water and make his restaurant a destination spot like Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville chain, with a lobster boat for kids to climb on and large lobster tanks for an interactive experience. Herndon also had a temporary location in Seacrest, Fla., not too long ago.
“My eyes are set on back over to the west coast of Florida, where we opened a couple of years ago briefly,” he said.
Many customers aren’t happy about the closures, Herndon said, but he’s continuing to serve lobster rolls at his original brick-and-mortar location on S.C. 170 in Okatie. He said he’s been serving smoked meats like bison and wild boar that he can’t keep in stock because of their popularity.
“I thank people for their loyalty and their continued business,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to expand next year to include a deck ... off the side, covered with live music, and beer and wine. There’s a truer destination out here in the middle of Okatie.”