Food & Drink

Popular Hilton Head Latin American restaurant abruptly closed last year. It’s reopening

Owners of a popular Latin American restaurant that abruptly closed last year said they are “thrilled” to reopen in a new spot on Hilton Head.

Tio’s Latin American Kitchen will open in Shelter Cove Towne Centre between late spring and early summer, according to Sally Zuniga, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Lynden, and their business partner Eliha Bitton. Lynden also serves as executive chef of the restaurant.

“For the last year, I’ve been getting messages and emails from people asking when we’re reopening, and we’re thrilled to announce that we’re back,“ Sally said. “We feel this one will be better than last time.”

The restaurant — known for Cuban sandwiches and homemade corn tortillas — will be located in the space formerly occupied by Charlie Grainger’s hot dog restaurant, as well as the retail space next to it.

The menu will “include all of the old favorites,” but “going a little more authentic with more items from other Latin American countries like Peruvian ceviche, Puerto Rican pinchos, Chicharrones and other Cuban bar food,” Sally said.

Lynden was born in Honduras and moved to the United States when he was 14. Many of the dishes at Tio’s are inspired by his heritage, Sally said.

“Opening up a restaurant like this is really the American dream for (Lynden),” Sally said. “I’m really proud of him.”

Before opening Tio’s in 2017, Lynden worked as a chef in several SERG group restaurants including Skull Creek Boathouse.

Sally said they are awaiting final approval from the town for construction on the 2,300-square-foot space. The project will take roughly six weeks to complete once approved.

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Lana Ferguson

The restaurant will include indoor and outdoor seating and will have an “eclectic and local feel,” Sally said, noting that friends have been giving them dining room tables for the new restaurant.

“What’s more local than a restaurant filled with friends’ dining room tables?” Sally said.

Tio’s first opened its doors in August, 2017 in the former Liberty Savings Bank at 87 Main St. and abruptly closed in April, 2018. At the time, majority owner Jeff Hurt told the Island Packet the restaurant’s chef and operator, Lynden Zuniga resigned and that key staff members “loyal to the chef” left with him, forcing the restaurant to close.

Hurt previously told the Island Packet the workforce shortage contributed to the restaurant’s closure. Hilton Head restaurants have faced an increasing workforce shortage over the past few years that has forced many businesses to close or reduce hours.

When asked why Tio’s closed its first location, Sally Zuniga declined comment.

She said some of the employees from the old Tio’s will be working at the Shelter Cove location.

Mixx on Main, another Latin American restaurant, opened in the old Tio’s location in May.

Mandy Matney is an award-winning journalist and self-proclaimed shark enthusiast from Kansas. She worked for newspapers in Missouri and Illinois before she realized Midwestern winters are horrible, then moved to Hilton Head in 2016. She is the breaking news editor at the Island Packet.