Grand Strand Veterans Café closing Saturday, plans to relocate

mprabhu@thesunnews.comMarch 21, 2013 

— After nearly two months of searching for a new location and after being given a March 31 deadline to vacate its building, Veterans Café plans to reopen in Northgate Plaza early next month.

Lou Mascherino, who owns the café with his wife, said he gave Robert Johnson Sr. a deposit Tuesday evening and was waiting for the final word.

“The paperwork is in. The deposit check has been made out,” he said.

Mascherino was informed Jan. 31 that the cafe would have to move out of its location at 1144 Shine Ave. on the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base and that something else was moving in.

The café will close its doors at its current location for good at 11 a.m. Saturday, before a group of people will head out on a poker run fundraiser to benefit the restaurant.

Mascherino, who opened the café in 2009, said he’d hoped to find a location that was near his current café because of its proximity to the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

“It took us three years to start being able to get by,” Mascherino told The Sun News in February. “If we move out of the area, we would have to start over and I don’t think we could handle all those losses again.”

Mascherino said he’s pleased with the new location, in the 3500 block of U.S. Highway 17 bypass at the former Okee Dokee Café, but it still will be tough on him financially.

“The rent is two times what I’m paying here,” Mascherino said Wednesday afternoon.

He said the money raised from Saturday’s event – as well as the promise of donations that he’s received since word got out that the café might close – would go toward moving costs, repairs and upgrades needed at the new location.

George Kaye, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Navy and works with the Fleet Reserve Association, said he was upset when he heard that the café could close. The FRA meets at Veterans Café once a month, he said.

“I said, ‘What are we going to do?’” he said. “We pledged that we would follow him … We all went out looking for places for them to move.”

Kaye said the café is a safe space for all veterans, something that would have been greatly missed had the restaurant had to close.

“There’s a feeling in here when you walk in,” he said. “It’s just like you belong. Everyone here is just like you. You tell stories here you wouldn’t’ tell anywhere else.”

Retired U.S. Army Gen. James Vaught said the café also provides a space for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to meet.

“I’ve found that that if you put three guys that got PTSD together … they share war stories and shoot the bull and soon they don’t have a problem,” he said. “[The café] provides a way and a place where they can assemble and work and talk to each other.”

Flags and More, which currently shares the building with Veterans Café, also will have to leave. Mascherino said the owner of the flag store hopes to also be able to relocate to Northgate Plaza in the unit next to the café.

Shine Avenue Holdings LLC, which is affiliated with Captain’s Quarters Resort, purchased the building on Jan. 30. South Carolina Bank and Trust foreclosed on the building in November 2011.

The Community Appearance Board approved a building permit for Myrtle Beach Vacations at that address but no business license application has been filed yet, said city spokesman Mark Kruea.

Registration for Saturday’s poker run begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at the café, located at 1144 Shine Ave. in Myrtle Beach. For more information and to make a donation, call 241-8907.

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at (843) 444-1722 or follow her on Twitter.

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