Story by Gray Bostick/Original photography by Judy Quick Sharon
(This article was originally published in the June, 2018 issue of VIP Magazine, and is re-published here with their permission. Look for VIP in local gathering places.)
Once upon a time, in a region near a meandering river, residents had to travel great distances, to places with strange names, like Calabash and Murrells Inlet, in order to obtain fresh seafood items and prepared meals.
But that was then and this is now, and no longer must those good folks waste time nor costly gas traveling roads to the coast to partake of goodies from the sea. And those that do are literally missing the boat, so to speak, as seafood as fresh and tasty as any right-off-the-boat, and as exquisitely prepared and delectable as you could ever desire is available right here in our very own Pee Dee backyard.
The culinary hotspot is Tubb’s Shrimp & Fish Co. of Florence, and the word is out – far and wide. Since opening in February of 2014, Tubb’s has quickly become not only a local and regional favorite, but has also drawn national attention, being ranked the #2 Comfort Food Restaurant nationally by Southern Living Magazine, as well as raking in numerous Best Of awards. And when a dining establishment has earned national recognition from such an esteemed publication, and award after award, plus garnered a #1 rating on each of the highly-respected online eatery rating services Trip Adviser and Yelp, with a 4.5 average on over 600 reviews on the former and 300 on the latter, the deduction one is inclined to make is to not ask questions, but, rather, to simply GO. And many do, with positive comments from travelers, even folks from coastal locations within South Carolina, such as Charleston, or from as far away as Canada and the Midwest – as often as not, repeat customers – some who even write of making a detour of an hour or more simply to include a stop at Tubb’s for a meal.
“It blows me away me that people enjoy our food and service and atmosphere enough to make it a point to stop back in,” says Kyle Hardee, who, along with Steve Toniolo and Travis Miller, co-owns Tubb’s. “It’s rare that we go a day and don’t have someone stop in and tell us that they’ve come back in for a second or third time. I imagine 15-20% of our business now is travelers. And it’s especially nice to hear that they’ve told their friends, and then to have them come in. It’s very rewarding.”
But the success that Hardee, Toniolo and Miller, who also co-own and operate the eclectic, new taqueria, King Jefe, which opened in Downtown Florence last year, are now enjoying at Tubb’s did not come overnight, nor without some long and, at times, worrisome and fretful nights. Looking back, however, it now seems it was almost a case of fate.
“Steve and Travis and myself were all working at Monster.com, and one night while we were eating in Florence, I commented how bad the shrimp we were eating tasted,” Hardee relates. “We were disappointed that we couldn’t get good seafood in Florence, But I have a grandfather in Sunset Beach, so we decided to buy some coolers and go down on Friday night and bring back the freshest seafood we could get – shrimp, diver scallops, tuna, red snapper, whatever – and then sell it to the locals here in Florence on Saturday morning.”
The trio did exactly that, making a run to the coast, then set up a tent in the parking lot of Stefano’s Italian Restaurant, which is owned by Toniolo’s family, set out a corn-hole table, turned on some tunes, and set about becoming seafood vendors – primarily just to bring fresh, quality seafood to the Florence area, while also establishing a solid customer base and making some good friends. “After a couple of months, it got to where we knew most of the people we’d be serving,“ Hardee notes. “Sometimes they’d even be waiting for us when we got there to set up.”
On the rare occasion the guys had some product remaining, they’d slide over to Stefano’s kitchen where Steve would prepare the guys a tasty reward for a long day – and night – of work.
That, Hardee points out, is when the light bulbs started to come on. “I knew Steve could cook, but I didn’t know he was that good, or could do it on that scale or volume…and with each of us bringing a set of skills to the table, we started to think, hey, maybe we should consider a restaurant.”
And that they did, scouting locations, creating a business plan, securing financing, and making career adjustments. The group secured the current location and reset their seafood-vending operation to coincide with their coming-soon restaurant venue and set to work making their dream a reality, albeit a perilous and uncertain path, especially for Hardee, a father of two with a pregnant wife at the time, who was the family’s sole bread-winner. “She believed in this dream as much as we did,” Hardee notes, adding that he sold nearly everything of value he had to finance his share of the venture.
Toniolo was the first to dedicate 100% of his time to the Tubb’s effort, working on bringing what had once been a service-station back to life as a restaurant and keeping the project moving forward logistically, with the other guys helping at night and at every other available opportunity before they, too, finally bit the bullet and went “All In” on Tubb’s.
And today, the rewards are being reaped thanks to all that hard work and preparation – and a menu full of palette-pleasing dishes such as classic fried, grilled, blackened, or broiled seafood platters, complete with sides, as well as the ever-popular Shrimp and Grits and catch-of-the-day or scallops, prepared as requested, or oysters, as available. Appetizers to set the stage for dinner range from Crab Rangoon to Bang Bang Shrimp to Crab Fries, and sandwiches run the gamut from seafood Po’ Boys to Smoked Pork Belly Sliders – cured in-house, and the She-Crab Soup is a delight in and of itself.
But if “surf “is not your preference that particular evening, then Tubb’s has the “turf”-lover covered also, offering one of the finest rib-eye steaks available in the Florence area. And to help get over the start-of-the-week blues, Monday is Revival Burger Day at Tubb’s, when 15 pounds of quality-cut beef is used to resurrect the Great American Hamburger by being fashioned into the tastiest burgers west of the Pee Dee – but burger aficionados are encouraged to hurry in as Revival Burgers, and an accompanying “cousin” burger offered, normally sell out quickly. Very quickly.So, while rumors of shrimp attempting to swim up the Pee Dee just to be allowed to be served at Tubb’s are proving difficult to get nailed down, the fact remains that they couldn’t be blamed for trying. And nor should you for making your way over to Second Loop Road in Florence without delay for the absolute best seafood meal in the Pee Dee, the tastiest steak in Florence, or the craftiest burger to pass across your lips in years, perhaps ever, all featuring local and home-grown South Carolina products at every possible turn.
“We’re humbled by the fact that so many people enjoy our food,” Hardee notes in closing. “It’s a validation of our primary goal, that being to please our customers. We want them to always feel comfortable to come as they are and expect to be treated well, served well, and to eat well, We have a passion for food, and a passion for people, and a passion for making them smile. Once they hit our lot, they’re our friends, and we won’t let them down.”
Tubb’s Shrimp & Fish Co. is located at 1500 Second Loop Road in Florence, and is open Monday – Wednesday 11:00am – 9:00 pm and Thursday – Saturday 11:00 – 10:00 pm. Indoor and deck dining is available, as is catering. Tubb’s may be contacted at 843-799-5579 or via their website www.TubbsSeafood.com. “Like” them on Facebook at Tubb’s Shrimp & Fish Co.