Chat n’ Chew owners get special visitors from Coastal Carolina University

by | July 26, 2014 2:08 pm

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Robert J. Baker / Times Chat n’ Chew’s newest owners, Willodene and Bernard Blackmon, said they’ve always heard Coastal Carolina University in Conway was founded in their restaurant, but they’d never confirmed it until a group of students and the college’s president visited earlier this month.

Chat n’ Chew owners Bernard and Willodene Blackmon and their employees thought July 9 just another Wednesday.

They had the regular influx of customers, and knew they had a reservation for 15 diners.

That reservation turned out to be for a Coastal Carolina University group and the college’s president, who wanted to visit the restaurant where the 60-year-old institution got its start.

“We knew that a group was coming from the university,” Willodene said. “But we didn’t think anything of it. When they got here, that’s when they told us the reason.”

ChatnChew-July 2014Coastal Carolina University CHANT411 Associate Director April Sager said her organization is a “new initiative on campus between students and President David DeCenzo.”

“Our goal is to answer any question that we can about Coastal,” she said. “We have about 10 student staff working within CHANT411, and they’ve worked hard on history and traditions training.”

The students learned about the university’s beginnings at Turbeville’s oldest business and one of Clarendon County’s most popular restaurants while undergoing their training.

“They wanted to go on a trip to the Chat n’ Chew and eat dinner there and see what it’s like,” Sager said. “And they asked the president to go with them.”

Willodene said she and Bernard were delighted to have the group.

“It was exciting to see them and learn a little bit about that history,” she said.

“I think it’s just another part of this restaurant’s rich history, and I had heard rumors about Coastal Carolina being started here, but I didn’t know anything for sure,” Bernard said.

According to the school’s 50th anniversary book – which the students presented to the Blackmons, along with a Coastal Carolina flag – founders of the university met in the back booth of the restaurant more than 60 years ago.

“We were told that they wanted a neutral place,” said Bernard, who said the founders hailed from Florence, Myrtle Beach and other areas.

The school was founded in 1954 as Coastal Carolina Junior College, then a two-year community college, by the Coastal Educational Foundation, a group of citizens wanting a post-secondary institution in the Grand Strand region of the state.

Initially operating under contract as an extension of the College of Charleston, it later became affiliated with the University of South Carolina in 1962, and it was a four-year institution by 1974. It became autonomous in 1993.

About 9,300 students currently study at the university’s main campus in Conway and in other facilities in Litchfield, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.

“It has went through several phases to get to where it is today,” Sager said. “But that all began at the Chat n’ Chew, and it was a great experience for our president and the students to see where everything began.”

Willodene said she will hang the flag presented to the restaurant in the near future.

“I have to get a rod for it, but yes, it will be hanging in here very soon,” she said.

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