Thursday, January 31, 2013
The right kind of eyes can perceive the sense of family that is everywhere at Alex’s Restaurant. The diner is named after owner Carol Billips’ son. Her 16-year-old grandson recently started working at the restaurant.
Several employees have worked at Alex’s anywhere from 15 to 25 years. Even during time off, employees eat there.
The Goose Creek restaurant reopened Nov. 26 after being closed about a year for renovations, most notably new white ceiling tiles.
“Just about every night when I’m in here someone will come up to me and thank me for reopening,” Billips said.
Unbeknownst to some locals, the restaurant went non-smoking about four years ago. Even after that, years of exhaled nicotine fumes lingered in the old charcoal-colored tiles.
“There’s not even a hint of smoke,” Billips said of the renovation. “It smells so much different . . . going non-smoking helped our business.”
There’s a family story behind her reasoning. Billips’ granddaughter was 7 at the time. She wanted to go to the counter and speak to a regular customer, an older gentleman who smoked. Billings told her she could not go to the smoking section.
“That’s what did it for me,” Billips said. “The next morning I threw out all the ash trays and put up ‘no smoking’ signs.”
She said at first she received more negative comments than expected, but that only lasted a month. “For us, a family-style restaurant, it’s been positive,” she said.
Currently the Goose Creek and Summerville (aka Flowertown) locations are the only restaurants in operation of what was once a larger local chain.
The first Alex’s opened in Mt. Pleasant in 1972. The Goose Creek location opened in the mid 1970s, Billips said. There were also locations on Savannah Highway, Rivers Avenue, Dorchester Road and Moncks Corner.
The restaurant in Summerville opened in 1984 after Billips remodeled a liquor store. The building is currently the Mustard Seed by the railroad tracks. In 1998 Flowertown moved to its current Highway 78 location.
Recently Billips has spent more time focusing on her family, and moved from Mt. Pleasant to Goose Creek to be closer to her children and grandchildren. She said Mt. Pleasant has changed since 1972 and she doesn’t miss it. “The boys, that’s been my life,” she said. “The grandchildren, I thoroughly enjoy them.
“The family atmosphere has a lot to do with it. We have food that’s not too expensive. Everyday food. Whatever is on the menu you can get any time . . . grits at night or a hamburger in the morning.
“We’ve been really blessed with a lot of hardworking employees and loyal customers. I attribute it to the grace of God. It truly is not me.”
Billips said she probably carried her family ways from the way she grew up into the family restaurant. She grew up in the north Georgia country (Highwassee) as one of 10 children.
“I quit school in 11th grade,” she said. “I was an A-student. With that many kids you get married to make it easier on the family. When I go home to the mountains it gives me energy. That’s God’s country up there.”
Billips left the freshwater mountain streams for the first time on a trip to Charleston to visit her uncle on July 4. She was amazed at how hot and sticky the Lowcountry is, but she ended up staying and opening restaurants.
“I’d never been anywhere other than the mountains,” she said. “Life is funny. You never know where you’re going to end up. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been doing this 40 years.”