SANTEE -- A “slice of old Southern Americana” continues to share its historic charm with diners and visitors.
Lone Star BBQ and Mercantile, located on 2212 Santee State Park Road, is under new ownership.
Corey and Rachel Henderson purchased the restaurant in March 2021.
"I have always had something to do with the restaurant business" Rachel said. "I have always wanted to own something of my own. The opportunity came available and (previous owner) Calvin (Strock) talked me into it."
The restaurant is open Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and from Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
But the couple is looking to add some new things starting in August.
For the first time since Lone Star BBQ opened about 20 years ago, breakfast will be served.
Initially, breakfast will be served Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.
For lunch and dinner, the restaurant will continue to provide Southern cooking and barbecue "but with a new twist," Rachel said.
"We have done a little changes to the recipe," Rachel said. "We have added to it to enhance the flavor of the food."
The couple is also looking to apply for a liquor license enabling it to sell beer and wine, as well as establishing an outdoor concert venue in the rear of the restaurant.
The outdoor concert area will include picnic tables and a cookout spot. Individuals would be able to bring their own chairs as well.
Concerts would include local bluegrass and country bands on Saturday nights and gospel music on Sundays.
The couple, Sumter natives, is also in the process of obtaining permits to have overnight camping availability. Corey said both the Santee State Park and Santee Lakes Kampgrounds of America (KOA) are often full and need overflow space.
"We have been asked to do that by both parks," Corey said. "A lot of them come to the parks early and their spot is not quite ready yet."
"My dream is to get a campsite and restaurant going," Corey said. "I love people and talking with people."
One thing that has not changed is the food, and the restaurant's original cook staff remains in place.
Rachel said restaurant ownership has been a learning experience for her. She has waited tables, cooked and managed restaurants, but ownership is brand new.
"We have learned a lot," Rachel said. "I have never been in a buffet-type situation in anything I have ever done before. It has been challenging at times, but it has also been a good learning experience. I have learned how to run it and keeping up with the food and making sure we have enough."
In the past, Rachel has worked at menu-order type of restaurants.
Rachel said the biggest challenge currently is trying to find employees who are willing to stay and work. She said many individuals have come in for a couple of weeks and then leave. Currently, the restaurant has about 10 employees.
With breakfast coming online, they will need an additional five employees.
The restaurant, like many others, struggled during COVID-19.
Operations have changed some as now customers are served food rather than serving themselves. The restaurant is still an all-you-can-eat format.
The restaurant is still offering take-out and customers are encouraged to call ahead to order.
"We have good food and great people here," Rachel said. "It is a community place. You can meet your neighbors here and you can meet somebody and become friends from miles and miles away. It is very comfortable and it is convenient."
Lone Star opened in July 2001 as a place where people could enjoy good food in an early 1900s setting.
Local Realtor Pat Williams owned the restaurant before selling it in November 2018 to Calvin and Susan Strock, Ed Shuler and Shirley Toth.
Part of Lone Star's charm comes from the buildings that were moved to the site from Calhoun County’s Lone Star community, which was once known as Auburn. They were moved to the site in 2000.
“The Green Store" was an old, tin-roofed building that had peeling paint and no electrical wiring. It was a general store in the Lone Star community that was restored to its original use. The back of the building was transformed into a restaurant/buffet line and kitchen.
Original counters and showcases can still be found brimming with merchandise dating back to the Great Depression, when mules and wagons and steam locomotives represented the primary modes of transportation.
The store has antiques such as pot-bellied stoves, cracker jars, meat scales and cheese cutters.
Corey said there are plans to add more antiques.
"It (the restaurant) is good for the county," Corey said. "It is a plus for the travelers coming down Interstate 95 and for the Santee and Orangeburg communities."
The former Lone Star Post Office has a vintage Coca-Cola sign of an engineer sipping a Coke on its side. It appeared in the movie “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” that was filmed in the area.
The building is currently being leased out to house a gift shop -- Southern Palm Trading Post. The shop, which opened in April, has the same hours as the restaurant. The shop has Lake Marion and custom shirts, local artisan wood works, candles, antiques and camping/fishing/boating supplies.
The old Shuler Store, which was located four miles below Santee on U.S. 301 South, is also showcased. It serves as a dining hall and is connected to the old general store by a breezeway.
The Old Dantzler Store, which sat on U.S. 15 south of Santee, is also included in the Santee village.
Also connected by a breezeway, it is used as a social hall for activities, including parties and civic club meetings. A small kitchen and a door leading into a courtyard are among its amenities.
An old-style smokehouse, with old meat hooks, was part of the Old Dantzler Store and serves as its backdrop.
Guests from all 50 states and from 50 foreign countries have dined at the restaurant.
For more information about the restaurant call 803-854-2000. For more information about Southern Palm, call 803-410-2958.