Tuesday, July 15, 2014
To walk into the quaint, bustling hive of conversation and activity that is Eva’s Restaurant is to step through a door back into time.
From the commemorative state plates and wood paneling on the walls to the bowed floors, vintage coffee machine, and original Viking stove, the restaurant – indeed, many of its patrons – has not changed since 1952, the year Eva Hinson moved the restaurant into its present space on Main Street.
However, in the three years following Eva Hinson’s passing, the iconic downtown restaurant has been the subject of quite a bit of speculation regarding its future.
Happily, that future appears assured as a group of local investors, the FAY Group, has teamed up with the Hinson family to keep the restaurant operating.
“Eva’s is just something you really don’t see anymore,” notes Jay Nettles, principal of the FAY Group, who is taking over operations of the restaurant. “It’s a big part of the history of this town — a lot of people have many fond memories of this place. We felt we couldn’t just let it go by the wayside. Miss Eva certainly wouldn’t have wanted that.”
Indeed. Just ask anyone who eats, works, or otherwise has ever darkened the doors there. There’s something about the place, this welcoming vibe that keeps people coming back. Call it family atmosphere; call it safe harbor from radical changes elsewhere in the community. Whatever it is, it is a powerful attraction – and it is very real, he said.
Nettles noted that when he first took over the restaurant, he immediately got the word from the customers: don’t change anything.
“If you look at the floors, they’re a little rough, because the area around the front door floods a little after a hard rain,” he said. “But when we mentioned possibly fixing the floors, everyone said, ‘that’s what we expect at Eva’s – don’t do anything to them.’”
Nonetheless, the building does need work – few repair or upgrades have been done since the 1950s – but Nettles says he constantly assures Eva’s patrons that the restaurant itself will pretty much stay the same.
A family affair
Eva Hinson and her husband, Thomas Edison “Eddie” Hinson, opened a restaurant in 1944 at a site on U.S. 78 near where Checkers is today. The restaurant moved into its present location on Main Street in 1953. Eva Hinson would remain very hands on throughout her life, making desserts from scratch, prepping the day’s menu, and other back of the restaurant task; her daughter, Betty Hinson Davis, would run the front of the house.
Lila Hinson Welborn, Eva Hinson’s granddaughter, said she and her siblings are very glad the restaurant will continue. While all of the grandchildren grew up around the restaurant, none of them ever expected the daily operations to fall to them, she said. In fact, the original plan was for Welborn’s mother to take over from Eva Hinson; sadly, she died in 2006.
“Granny was in the kitchen, mostly, but mother was always up front running things, making sure it all went smoothly,” she said. “We loved the place, but none of us ever thought we would be in the position to have to make these decisions.”
There were a number of issues to consider, Welborn noted – especially the welfare of the employees. The family did not want to put them out of work, especially after they had spent so many years there, she said. The kitchen staff and wait staff have been on the job for decades; some are even second generation, she noted.
It would take three years, a lot of soul searching, and a group of local investors who loved the restaurant to help the grandchildren make their decision, she said.
“We feel like the town of Summerville has rallied around the family,” Welborn said. “It’s a good thing – it was very sad, of course, for us, but it’s wonderful that the restaurant can go on.”
Many of the customers go back for generations as well. One of the most notable is former Mayor Berlin G. Myers, who sits at the same table, in the same chair, enjoying the same breakfast he has enjoyed every day for nearly 70 years.
“I enjoy going there every morning for my breakfast,” Myers said. “They know I always want my grits, bacon and eggs, toast and jelly, and coffee – I don’t even have to make an order.”
Myers, who was a longtime friend of Eva Hinson, says he is glad that the Nettles family have stepped up to keep the restaurant going and pleased that Eva Hinson’s legacy will continue.
“I knew Eva since we were in grammar school together,” Myers said. “She was a very nice person, a very fine lady – I believe every one who ever knew her loved her.”
Another longtime customer is Nettles’ father, Jerry Nettles, a longtime Summerville resident and former football standout for Summerville High School and the Citadel.
“My father comes in here all the time,” Nettles said. “Think about it; the restaurant opened its doors in 1944 and he’s been coming here since he was 5. That’s a lot of history just with him. And I remember coming here with him – so that’s shared history.”
Michael Murray and his mother, Margaret, are also longtime customers. They said they, too, enjoy the food and the atmosphere of the place.
“We’ve been coming in here about every day for the last 15 years,” Michael Murray said. “A couple of years ago I was in Peru for about three months. The first thing I did when I got back was to come here and get some string beans and a grilled cheese sandwich.”
Margaret Murray noted that she always runs into people she knows at Eva’s. As if to underscore that sentiment, another customer, Jim Glenn – known to all at Eva’s as The Professor – was hailed by an old friend who had just come in for lunch.
“I knew I’d run into someone I knew at Eva’s,” the man said.
Former Summerville High School Band Director Gus Moody and his wife, Bettye, have also been regular patrons for many years.
“The first time I ate here was the first day I came to Summerville, in 1960,” Moody said. “We’re still here.”
Both Moody and Glenn noted Eva Hinson’s deep concern for her customers.
“She was one of those people that when she closed the restaurant for a week so the employees could have a vacation, she would worry about what I was going to eat if I couldn’t come here,” Glenn said.
Moody related a story about a friend of his who brought a business associate to the restaurant one morning for breakfast. He said the two got so busy talking that Moody’s friend never had a chance to eat his breakfast and had to leave it to make it to his office on time.
“He told me that he wasn’t in his office two minutes when the phone rang – it was Miss Eva saying, “What was wrong with your breakfast?”
Like many others, the Moodys say they have always enjoyed the food, but it is the atmosphere, that feeling of spending time with family rather than just eating out, that keeps them coming back.
“The waitresses are so wonderful – they are so special to us,” Bettye Moody noted. “This is the only restaurant in town I can come into and the waitresses tell me they love me.”