Surf City has opened its arms to Guy Royal and Gerald Garner, son and stepdad, and new restaurateurs of Surf City Barbeque. They stand by their eatery’s promise to serve up “the pig, the whole pig, and nothin’ but the pig.” But that’s not entirely true; there’s also chicken, shrimp, flounder, Royal’s perfect coleslaw, scrumptious desserts (when Mama’s around), and 12-hour, slow-cooked Brunswick stew, the best side in southeastern North Carolina.
Last Saturday Royal and his family served a catering event that had them in and out of their restaurant kitchen from 6:30 a.m. ‘til 10:30 p.m., and back on their day off to scrub pots and pans. Royal says he really loves his work, because the delicious taste of his barbeque stems from cooking the whole pig, and he wants his customers to be surprised and delighted.
“Most restaurants that serve barbeque, cook only the shoulders and butts instead of the whole pig,” he comments. “We call them cheaters. Making barbeque this way takes less time and money, but the customer gets less flavor and selection in his meat. Cooking the whole pig gives the client the choice of 12 different cuts and 12 distinctive flavors. When you put it all together and add our special sauces, you have real down-home, southeastern North Carolina barbeque.”
Open just a year this past May, Royal never turns down a charity and in turn regularly entertains new customers. He credits his success to the whole-hearted support of his family, especially his soon-to-be bride, Rebecca, who makes a dynamite chicken and pastry on Tuesday nights; she also does “at least half of the work.” Royal’s mother, Debbie Garner, makes melt-in-your-mouth desserts, including a creamy banana puddin’ that will be her ticket to open heaven’s gate. And Royal’s younger brother, Robert, greets everyone with a smile, serves and buses the tables, and hears every word that’s said around the building, which helps him better meet the needs of his customers.
Robert’s keen sense of hearing has increased through the years as he’s recovered and dealt with the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury. “Six months after Debbie and I married in 1996, I saw Robert run a four-wheeler through a stop sign,” Garner, Robert’s stepdad, tells. “He was hit by a truck, thrown 47 feet in the air, and suffered a hard blow to the back of his head when he hit the pavement. Fluid was coming out of his nose and ears, but he was able to squeeze my hand when I told him he was going to make it. We had him air-lifted to the Greenville hospital where his head swelled beyond recognition. His cranial pressure was four times normal, and he was given a five percent chance of survival. We were told if he did make it, he would be in a vegetative state. It was the critical third day and the pressure needed to come down. Debbie, her cousin and the chaplain were on their knees praying, and by knee-mail the pressure finally subsided. After rehab treatment in three different facilities, including a 30-day aquatic rehab in Houston, his doctor told Robert he was truly a miracle and had disproved medical science. For his family, we’re grateful that, unlike many traumatic brain injuries, Robert has kept his same sweet personality. His speech may be impaired, but he’s still the con man artist and comedian we love.”
Robert was the deciding factor in Royal and Garner opening their restaurant. Whenever he had a birthday, Royal would cook a pig for a large group of supporters to celebrate Robert. After one of the gatherings, the family circled the dinner table and decided to match their time, money and energy to their dreams.
“Rebecca and I wanted the restaurant on the coast,” Royal explains, “and Surf City is the best place to be at the beach. Gerald drove around and found our building, which had been a Subway. So it was cozy, but fit all our stuff just right.”
Surf City approved building permits sooner than Royal expected, and the last month before opening, he slept a few hours on a bar stool or out in his truck each night before getting back up to start again. One nearby eatery, Max’s Pizza, was so impressed that Max helped haul the pig cooker through the back door.
“We share with local businesses,” Royal reports. “If we’re out of something—a case of Coke, a sleeve of cups—we can go to each other. We don’t fret when we run out, because someone will back us up.”
The reciprocity has paid off for everyone. Each busy season, Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day has proved more lucrative than the last. “Even in winter, business is good,” Royal says. “Being family-owned, we present a down-home atmosphere, and we’re happy when people pull up a chair to have a cup of coffee and share their stories.”
“Guy, Rebecca and Robert offer our customers genuine warmth,” Garner says. “They call clients by name and remember their likes and dislikes. This restaurant is about their dreams. Debbie and I have had our turn, and we’re happy to be their silent partners.”
One of Rebecca and Guy’s favorite ways of keeping in touch with customers is through Facebook. Rebecca calls it her biggest friend. Guy explains how a couple from Ohio visited last summer and commented on Surf City Barbeque’s daily specials. They also promised to return; the barbeque is that delicious. But, really, a smile, joke or hug with Robert makes the whole trip worthwhile.
Surf City Barbeque
204-A N. New River Dr.
Tues. – Sat., 11 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.