Edna’s #1 Drive-In, the iconic dining establishment at the corner of River and Sunset drives, is closing Thursday after 54 years.
But, even as we observe that burger-and-fry joint’s departure, it should be noted there are other Columbia-area restaurants that have been in business for 30 years or more.
Here’s what owners and longtime customers say about what makes them special.
LaBrasca’s Five Minute Pizza, Established 1966
George LaBrasca had moved back to Charleston for the birth of his first child when he opened the first LaBrasca’s 5-Minute Pizza Restaurant in that city. It was his hope eventually to build a franchise with several locations in Charleston and one on Fort Jackson Boulevard in Columbia.
After opening the pizza place in Columbia in 1966 and running it himself for a while, LaBrasca sold it to Jack Jackson, an ex-Navy man, who ran the restaurant for the next 32 years.
In the beginning, Labrasca’s 5-Minute Pizza only offered carry-out service. Jackson added space for dine-in, expanding the dimly lit dining rooms over the years and adding the adjacent Gentleman Jack’s Bar in 1994.
In 1998, Brett Wilson purchased LaBrasca’s from Jackson, keeping up the tradition of pizzas and cheese salads, cold beer and a unique ambiance. The low lighting, which makes the dining area feel cozy, may have contributed to LaBrasca’s reputation over the years as the destination for many a first date or marriage proposal.
Longtime waitress Johnnie Roseborough, along with her sister Joe, has been serving customers at LaBrasca’s for more than 40 years.
“When I started, there was nothing over here. No restaurants. K-Mart had just opened,” she says. “People will come in from Charleston, Sumter and Camden. There’s a group from Cayce that comes in once a week. A lot of folks have met their (soon-to-be) wives or husbands here. There are a lot of first dates.”
Wilson says his time with LaBrasca’s “has been quite a journey.”
The restaurant did not escape the flooding of 2015. “I was off on that Sunday (when the flooding began), and I realized it was going to be a problem. I got through the back parking lot at Whole Foods and the water was waist high. There was a foot of water inside the restaurant.
“The next day, I came back and there was a longtime customer already inside LaBrasca’s, sweeping out the water and the mud.”
Wilson, who says he’s the type of guy who helps others but never asks for help himself, thought that “it was pretty special” his customers came by and helped clean and rebuild the place. He and his staff set up LaBrasca’s Pizza Wagon in the parking lot and served pizzas to-go until the restaurant was restored.
Wilson closed the Gentleman Jack’s bar in 2015 to open up space for more seating. But, now, most Friday nights are back to standing room only.
Not much else has changed.
Wilson has added wings and a couple of sandwiches to the menu, and would like to have the room in the kitchen to add pasta dishes. But LaBrasca’s is known for the pizza.
“I can’t take credit for running the place. I was here at the right place, at the right time,” says Wilson of LaBrasca’s long-term success. “If you work hard and are married to it, and are consistent and friendly,” you will have success.
Wilson does look to the future.
“I have certain daily goals I like to meet to help me sleep at night,” he says. So far, “since the flood, the (actual) numbers have exceeded what I have in my head. Whether it’s curiosity to see what we’re like after the flood, or regrowth in the area (with the stores in Cross Hill Market and Rosewood Crossing), the numbers are good.”
LaBrasca’s has a following on Facebook, and Wilson is testing a smartphone app that will allow customers to order and pay — and, sometime in the future, book a table — from a phone. The LaBrasca Pizza Wagon will make an appearance at Tartan Day South and West Columbia’s HEMI Food Truck Court in the near future.