To the uninitiated, the oyster joint on Bowens Island was a curiosity of sorts—an aging pile of cinderblocks and boards held up by layers of graffiti, with bivalves being cooked inside on some sacrificial altar. To legions of loyal customers, the place could hardly be called a restaurant. It was a state of mind.
In 2006, the year that Bowens Island Restaurant celebrated its sixtieth anniversary, Robert Barber accepted a James Beard Award, honoring the place as an American Classic. Five months later, the restaurant that his late grandmother, May Bowen, started burned to the ground. What remained were the stories.
Sixty years of stories have been collected as part of the SFA’s Bowens Island Oral History Project. What follows is a portrait of a place, painted by generations of family, loyal employees, and devoted customers. Read their stories and step into the Bowens Island state of mind.
Bowens Island Restaurant reopened for business a few months after these interviews were conducted. Today, fresh oysters are being brought in from the marshes, new walls are ready to receive their marks, and new memories are being made.
Amy Evans Streeter