Is there really any greater sign of one of those ‘new normals’ than seeing a small business (particularly restaurants) closing for a day here or there because of a staffing issue?
If we’ve seen it once, we’ve seen it a hundred times in the last couple of years.
It’s unfortunate for sure, but it is the state of the world right now. Labor remains an issue in food and beverage everywhere. But that dead horse has been beaten several times in this space. We aren’t here to do it again.
It was for that reason, however, that I didn’t think much of the fact that a Tybee Island staple, Gerald’s Pig and Shrimp, was closed back in May on the day of the soon-to-be-world famous beach bum parade.
The island was going to be jammed with people, I thought. Why isn’t Gerald open? He must be having trouble finding help.
I rolled on.
After the parade, I called Gerald in part to find out what was up with his not being open.
“Please don’t say anything. But I’m done. I’m selling it.”
The end of an era for sure.
Last week, I got the call.
“It’s done.” We met out at Huc-a-Poo’s for a chat between old friends.
14 year runs owning a restaurant aren’t usually the kind of things that earn you ticker-tape parades and/or keys to the city, but it is different on Tybee and it is certainly different with Gerald Schantz.
He is the Savannah boy, turned downtown stained glass maker, turned restaurant owner. Gerald is as much a part of Savannah’s fabric as speed traps in Thunderbolt.
Gerald’s Pig and Shrimp served as a perfectly ‘Tybee-fied” spot on the island for BBQ and fried shrimp. The latter being some of the best on the island, if not the county.
The restaurant started with a food trailer on a lot Gerald owned on the island. It later evolved into an eclectic blend of table space, signage, and a tiny bar to pour a few draft beers. It was one of Tybee’s perfect post day-at-the-beach eateries.
Gerald the cook is self taught. He admits to countless trial runs of those fried shrimp in search of something he could compare to old school local favorite Williams Seafood.
He credits his smoked meats skills to his friend John Purvis out in Glennville, Georgia.
Why now? “I’m going to be 70 in October” he says.
6:00am alarms hit a little different north of 60, I assume, when you are faced with running a business. There is great joy, and Gerald is very quick to share so much of it. But there was also a good bit of-lets say not joy-that comes with the daily grind of owning a restaurant.
Gerald says the 2020 shutdown gave him his first taste of how much better his bones felt when he didn’t have to get after it four or five days a week.
Once he began that uphill climb back to wherever the industry is going these days, he realized he just didn’t want to do it anymore. It’s a pattern that has repeated itself thousands, if not millions, of times across America post-pandemic.
“I’ve really enjoyed the people I’ve met over the years.” Gerald says referring to his extremely loyal customer base. “Yesterday I got a call from a guy in Atlanta telling me he was coming down and needed some hot sauce for his mother.”
“At the stained glass shop you see your customers twice.” he says. “This was different. At the restaurant we saw a lot of the same faces all of the time. I really loved talking to them.”
He said it more than once, but it was beyond more than obvious how much he was going to miss the camaraderie and pleasure that comes from making his customers happy.
So now what? I don’t think ‘retirement’ is a fair choice of words.
The first words out of his mouth when we met was the fact that he was looking forward to his continued work with the few charities he’s been cooking for in Savannah over the years. Oyster roasts, BBQ, and more. That isn’t going to change.
Beyond that, he’s taking a vacation to Alaska to visit a friend, but he’s staying at his long time home on Tybee Island, directly across the street from Jodee Sadowsky, who very quietly sold another Tybee Island institution-The Breakfast Club-last year and is very much enjoying his new chapter.
If those two characters stepping aside doesn’t tell you about the changing face of Tybee Island, then I don’t know what will.
Still, Tybee’s gonna Tybee. There will always be characters.
Gerald says the new owners of that space plan to keep a lot of what is there intact. It will remain a restaurant.
It just won’t be Gerald’s Pig and Shrimp.