Meet the Trio from Breakwater Restaurant and Bar

By Wendy Pollitzer

Featured in The Island News

June 24, 2010

Beth Shaw and Donna and Gary Lang

For those of you who haven’t eaten at Breakwater Restaurant, you’re missing out.  The ultra hip spot for the locals caters to a diverse clientele. But all of its patrons seem to have one characteristic in common: they all love good food.

Donna and Gary Lang and Beth Shaw, partners at Breakwater sat down with me recently and talked about how they got to the beloved Carteret Street location.  The trio have been on a roller coaster ride for almost a decade, but are now quite content with their product and their location.

Donna and Gary met 11 years ago in Atlanta. Gary was visiting from Memphis and stayed at his friend, Randy’s house. Donna and Randy lived in the same neighborhood. Gary suggested going out to dinner one night, and the love affair began.

They maintained a long distance relationship (before the cell phone age) at the tune of $300/month in phone calls. Six months passed, and Gary decided to move to Atlanta in May; by June they were married.

When Gary flew in to Hartsfield, Donna said, “We’re going to make a quick stop, okay?” She knew the Art Institute of Atlanta was having an Open House that day, and Gary had always had aspirations of becoming a cook.  But, Gary was in Commercial Real Estate Appraisal at the time (back in the day), and life was good.

Somehow, though, Donna convinced Gary to attend culinary school at The Institute. And let me tell you, Beaufort is a better place because of it!

After school, the couple knew they wanted to buy or open a restaurant of their own. Donna’s daughter was about to go away to college, so moving was a legitimate option. And, they always wanted to live on the coast.

They found a restaurant for sale in Beaufort and fell in love with the town. They purchased Bistro DeJoung, changed the name to Bistro 205 and dove into the tricky, ever-changing world of the restaurant biz.

Gary was getting a haircut one day by local stylist, Amy Smith. She said to Gary, “You know, I have a client whose daughter just graduated from Johnson and Wales Culinary Institute in Charleston. She’s moving to Beaufort. Do you think you could use her?”

Gary didn’t hesitate to talk to Beth Shaw. Admittedly shy, Shaw didn’t spark the interview with lots of talk. She just presented her product, and Gary was more than satisfied. Within a few days, Beth was hired as 2nd Sous Chef.

Well, within a few weeks, the head Sous Chef left, and Beth took the reins as leader in the kitchen. In fact, the other Sous chef left on the eve of Bistro’s first-ever wine dinner.  Beth had her hands full on Day 1.

As some slow years passed, Donna and Gary knew they needed to make some changes. They decided to renovate the interior and change the menu from fine dining to more casual. And, they brought Beth on as partner. In 2004, the three opened Breakwater Restaurant.

They operated on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays only, and in 2 and ½ years were doing better while open three nights a week as opposed to six.  They liked this format a lot, and it seemed to work very well for a long time. As business increased, they started a phenomenon that took off like mad: Recession Tuesdays. The affordable night did so well, the trio decided to add Recession Wednesdays. And it worked too!

So when the lease came up at the restaurant’s former location on West Street, Donna, Gary and Beth were about to throw in the towel. They were tired and ready to move on to something different.

They opened a kitchen store in the old Firehouse and started a cooking school. They had pre-priced, 4-course wine dinners, called Chef’s Tables that were very popular. And, Gary and Beth got to be creative. It sparked a new interest in cooking and ignited the old flame of operating a restaurant.

They dabbled at some possibilities in Bluffton, but soon realized Beaufort was their home. They liked the clientele here and the clientele loved them!

Billy Keyserling helped them find the building; and, with a lot of help from local interior designer, Carol Waters and renowned architect, Joel Newman, Gary, Donna and Beth opened at their new location on Carteret Street within a few short months.

The urban-chic bar and restaurant is trendy, but casual; fashionable yet comfortable; and locale for the Who’s Who in Beaufort as well as the average boy next door looking to find that special girl.  And, like I said at the beginning, it’s the place where everyone goes to get GOOD FOOD!

My favorite aspect of Breakwater is the infamous wine room, originally tapped to be a cooking school. After fighting codes, codes and more codes (Beaufort is famous for them), Gary, Donna and Beth put their heads together with Newman and Terry Sweeney to find an alternate solution for the space.  The result? An intimate room for a party of 10 glassed in for the rest of the patrons to see, but closed so that conversations are kept private. And all in front of hundreds of bottles of wine showcased as they’d be at a winery.  It’s just cool and classy!

Gary and Beth are about to bring their popular Chef’s Tables back. The dinners will be reasonably priced, and Gary will talk a little about the food and wine between each course.

Also coming soon is a special Wine Dinner with Maysara Wines, which are certified biodynamic wines. The event will be on July 13th, and reservations will open next week. Space is limited to 20, so make sure you get in on this unique dinner.

Breakwater prides itself in choosing locally grown vegetables and fresh caught shrimp from native waters. In fact, they take a lot of pride in the local scene. Gary is a member of Main Street Beaufort, U.S.A and works with a committee to keep downtown businesses afloat in these slow economic times.

From May through September, the folks from Callawassie, Spring, Brays and Dataw Islands are visiting up North, and the guys from Secession are not thinking golf! So, many of the downtown restaurants are slow. And, it can get tough at times.

The trio relies on steady local business. So when you’re thinking about dining out next, remember Breakwater. And when you have friends in town, think Breakwater. Looking for a nice date spot…Breakwater! Want to watch some World Cup action, you guessed it, Breakwater.

Thanks Donna, Gary and Beth for a fun interview. You guys are always so easy to talk to.  And oh, how I love your staff! A special shout out goes to Alison, Terry, Taylor and Drea. You guys are the bomb!

About Wendy

Wendy Pollitzer is a versatile writer living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

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