I drive right by it.
I’ve gone around the bend on Butler/US 80 and have gone to the south side of Tybee Island and I can’t find it anywhere. Google maps has led me astray and I’m on the side of the road looking at Gerald’s Pig & Shrimp’s Facebook page. Mackenzie is the cross street and I realize it’s just as I get onto the island, before I even hit the first light that would take me to the lighthouse. As I circle back, I find it…directly on the road and looking like it’s been there for years. Of course, Gerald has heard this all before. “It’s amazing,” he says, “on the google map, we’re located by the IGA between 11th and 12th street. People will ride right by and call me and say, ‘Where are y’all located?’ and I tell them we’re 2 miles back, you missed us. Don’t follow google maps.”
The open air structure surrounded by gorgeous landscaping could be mistaken for a garden nursery…that is until you see it’s also surrounded by BBQ signs. I find a parking space and wander in and feel like I’m in another world. It’s cool, breezy, organic and very inviting. I wind through the different styles of tables that are comfortably spaced apart. They sit on a multicolored bricked patio that absolutely makes the space much more interesting than a standard cement slab, “The bricks breathe. What I do is I wet this down on a hot day and it wicks the coolness out of the earth.” Gerald tells me. A long stainless steel sheeted bar with a quirky mix of stools of varying heights is where I head and I choose the tallest one given my stature…or lack thereof.
Pointing at all of the wood, he adds “All of this is reclaimed. The plywood and the roof here isn’t but every other piece of wood is. Tybee has a beginning history of railroads; that’s how you used to get out here. I wanted this building to look like an old side building for a railroad and I wanted it to look like when people rode by, they went, ‘How’d we miss that? It had to have been there forever!’ That’s what we have, like it’s been here forever.”
The landscaping is beautiful. I happen to mention it and there is a story behind it as well. “We’ve done it all.” he says. “We’ve been fortunate in that where I live, my landlord was a landscaper, so he told me what to buy and he stays on my behind to keep watering it, fertilize it and all of that. I water it all. The ice that we have over, we throw on the plants. The drinks we don’t throw the liquid away, we throw it in a bucket so no liquid goes in the trash and then we use that liquid to water everything. We try to be efficient.”
“If we had walls, we’d have shelves where you could buy stuff…but we don’t have walls”, he trails off in a comedically wistful and despondent way. He looks pensive and almost a little sad and it’s so forlorn that I can’t help but giggle. I’ve always loved Gerald’s deadpan sense of humor delivered with a little twinkle in his eye. Plus, I’m a woman and I laugh at the misery of men, right? But I also know that Gerald is really smart and ingenious, so I’m positive he’ll come up with some sort of solution. He doesn’t disappoint, “I’m thinking that between here and the building (just beside the open air structure that houses the office and the restroom): a little retail spot that we could close at night, sell t-shirts, sauces, stuff like that. In time, it will come. I like having a good foundation before moving on to the next. Before we got waitresses and beer, I knew we had a good menu. It’s a pretty good menu considering it all comes out of a chuck wagon.”
Gerald Schantz has on the same tie dye shirt that the staff sport with the eponymous restaurant logo on it. We talk about how the business is old school in its name, harking back to the days when people put their names on their businesses because “one of the reasons I called it Gerald’s…is in the tradition of being proud of something, attaching your name to it. I’m Gerald, it’s gotta be right, I can’t hide. By putting our name on it, we have to stand behind it.”
This is classic Gerald. This renaissance man and I go back 15 years when we had season box seats to the Savannah Sand Gnats near each other. 70 four hour nights for a few years adds up and chatting with Gerald during those games gave me the opportunity to get to know him. He is thoughtful, intelligent, funny and has a passion for life that many half his age lack. His is also warm, caring, extraordinarily kind and very sentimental.
Once upon a time, Gerald did more than cook. He had Aurora Stained Glass on Broughton Street and was working as a professional stained glass artisan. “I miss downtown personally. The beach is beautiful and the people are nice, but I lived right downtown for 30 years almost. I mean, my first apartment out of high school was downtown and then I went into the military and I came back and I’ve lived downtown ever since. I miss walking to Kroger, I miss riding my bike and walking to Mrs. Wilkes’.” If you ever want to see what he walked away from to do pig and shrimp, go to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum (a gem more people should see) and wander out back to the chapel. The stained glass is awe-inspiring and simply breathtaking. “I sold the property on Broughton Street for this piece of property and I went through years and years of bureaucracy, literally, trying to get this, and that’s what I was doing for about 4-5 years…it was not easy. I started out with the little yellow wagon for a couple of seasons…a few years of that with just take out. Then we put the roof and the seating and then for two years we (served) out of the window and now we have waitress service with beer and wine.”
Having seen how masterful he is at stained glass, I’ve always been curious about how he made the transition and how he developed his recipes. Turns out we have the “Book” to thank for that. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’s author, John Berendt gave This Old House a tour of Savannah–the first time TOH had ever filmed outside of Boston. As a thank you, he wanted to throw a party and Gerald and a friend did the food. “I got a buddy, a redneck buddy from Glenville.” he says. “I’ve always been doing oysters since I was a child and I used to volunteer at Fort Jackson and do oyster roasts and stuff like that.” He says he took is friend’s BBQ recipes and “Knocked out a few things.” “All of my marinades are 4-5 ingredients.” He adds. “I don’t use salt, I don’t use onion powder, don’t use garlic salt, just garlic, things like that so it’s more efficient yet still tasty.” “I grew up eating real good fried shrimp every weekend at a local seafood restaurant, Williams Seafood, literally in utero I ate their shrimp, so I always tried when I started to do this and I wanted to make good fried shrimp, I literally took all different kinds of flour and seasonings and just experimented and played with it. We cook pork shoulders because there are two different types of meat on it and we blend it and I think you get a better product.”
I ask the usual, “What’s your favorite?”
“What’s your favorite on the menu?”
“It’s like choosing between your children. Some days I come in and get a couple of fried shrimp. We make our own tartar and our own cocktail. We peel and de-vein daily. They’re not pre-bread until you order them.” The tartar sauce is made with capers and dill which is nice and light. The shrimp come daily from the Lazaretto Creek dock.
I take a bite of the hush puppies. Until this moment, I would have said hands down that the best hush puppies in Savannah came from Pearl’s…move over, there’s a new frontrunner in this category. They’re similar but not as sweet, which I like better. “We don’t add sugar, our barbecue, our sauces, the sweetness comes from Vidalia onion and red peppers. We have our own hot sauce. We do sell that. It’s mango and carrots in the hot sauce.”
Gerald takes a bite of the shrimp. “Mmmmmm…yummy. That’s my new word: yummy. The food is fresh, it’s good, it’s served with people that care. If there’s a problem, we’ll fix it. There shouldn’t be a problem first of all, but everybody had different tastes and we’ll make it right for them.”
“What we’re trying to do is have good food and good service. Quality. Fair prices. One of the specials we’re going to have this season is we’re talking like on a Wednesday doing an all you can eat Low Country Boil. If the electricity went out on the island, we could still serve food. We have a generator and it’s all gas. Now it would be all cash because we couldn’t do credit cards, but we can still serve food that tastes good.”
I’m sipping on my limeade; it’s to DIE for…or go into a diabetic coma for–trust me, it’s worth it. I look over and ask the question I know I’ll love the answer for: Talk to me about your thoughts about community.
“Community is lost nowadays. People have to help each other and if we don’t, then who’s there to help us?” He references one of my favorite quotes by Martin Niemöller (1892-1984):
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
Gerald takes these words very much to heart. His sense of community is genuine and years ago, he started the Guardian Angels in Savannah. They used to be a very strong presence downtown when he headed the local chapter.
Even though his synagogue doesn’t sponsor it, you can see him most years making latkes at the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival held in Forsyth Park every October. “When I went to go eat, the line was 3 miles long. I said I can fix this if y’all will listen to me. So I brought in my equipment and used it the next few years until they bought their own.” The equipment they now use was designed by him specifically for their latke making needs and made by one of his guys.
“I’ll go to the IGA to pick up stuff, they’re really good to me. Mike’s a great guy. When I first came out here a year or two ago, one of his employees had a fire and I went to him and said I can help you. We raised about $3000-$4000 for her. He supplied the meat and I cooked it and we sold dinners there.”
He doesn’t brag. I know some of these stories already and ask him anyway specifically for the interview. While he’s not boastful, he isn’t sheepish about it. He shares my belief that we all need to contribute to our society for the betterment of all.
He’s got a catering gig he’s cooking up for…yes, he does catering!!!…and I know he needs to get back to the business at hand.
“Is there anything else you want people to know?”
The waitress chimes in, “That he is the best boss ever!”
“Well, don’t lie to the woman.”
“I don’t lie…”
“Well, good. Am I really the best boss ever?”
“Why? Because I’m not here most of the time?”
We all disintegrate into laughter.
He looks fondly at the waitress with an avuncular air. “You know, I figure they know what they’re doing, let them do it. If they make a mistake, they’ll learn”.
One of the few places that stays open midday. Perfect place to get something to eat on the way home from the beach, either dine in or to go.
Off Season: Thursday – Sunday until 9pm
Full Season, beginning the Thursday prior to Memorial Day Weekend: Daily, 11:30am-10:00pm through Labor Day
Friendly dogs on leashes welcome.
Parking: free lot and easy street parking.
Written by Jessica Ghormly