Top 100 list highlights success of restaurant industry

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The Grand Strand is home to about 2,000 restaurants, and now there is an updated list to help find some of the best. Well-known local food writer Becky Billingsley has released her fourth annual edition of The Top 100 Grand Strand Restaurants.

"We have a really great coastal cuisine that's very unique and delicious, and I want to focus on that," Billingsley said.

It was difficult for her to limit her list to just 100 she said, because the restaurant industry is still growing after a surge that began in the 1990's. Even with all that development, Billingsley said the Grand Strand is not immune to the old adage that 90 percent of restaurants fail. What may be different here is there is still potential for growth that keeps restaurants like Zulu Lounge and Bistro popping up with new owners eager to try their hand at success.

Hunter Thames, who manages Zulu in the Galleria Shopping Center, said the Myrtle Beach area is a tempting place to start a restaurant because there are so many visitors who are willing to try new things like the South African inspired food at Zulu.

"You have all of these people coming," Thames said. "They're on vacation. They want to spend money."

However, Thames knows tourists are not enough to sustain a business, even in the Grand Strand. He said establishing a following of people who live in the area will also be important. He realizes that may not be easy because there are so many other options, and many of the people who live in the area are seasoned veterans of the hospitality industry who may not be easy to please.

"You have to stand on your own without the tourism to be a successful place in Myrtle Beach," Thames admitted.

Misty Coan, owner of the new Lulu's Café on Ocean Boulevard, agrees that local support is important. She and her husband also own The Boathouse Waterway Bar and Grill, and Coan felt she could succeed with a second restaurant in the growing Grand Strand Restaurant scene.

"Pretty much anybody can make it in the summertime," Coan said. "There's just so many people down here that lots of restaurants are successful. During the winter is when it's make or break."

Coan also said she feels restaurants in the Grand Strand may have a better chance at success because she feels more people in the area eat out. With so many people in the hospitality industry, she feels it has become part of the social environment to visit different restaurants where professional colleagues are working. The schedule of folks in the hospitality industry also lends itself to eating out.

Billingsley also said it is not just the growth potential that has spurred restaurants lately. Low real estate prices have also encouraged new restaurants. However, only the good ones will last, and Billingsley said there is no particular secret to their success.

"It takes that certain 'Je ne sais quoi,' that special quality, that combination of friendliness and food and service to make them last, and they have to be smart business people," Billingsley said.

A copy of The Top 100 Grand Strand Restaurants is available at any restaurant that made the list. Billingsley does not rank the restaurants. The guide is an alphabetical list of Billingsley's suggestions.

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