Shorty’s Grill: Good Food & Southern Hospitality
Shorty’s Grill has legacy of fans and tradition
LORIS – it’s lunchtime and Shorty’s Grill is packed tighter than my size 22 hips in a size 7 dress. People are in every nook, cranny, and corner chatting it up and gobbling down grub in this iconic Loris restaurant where people love to meet and enjoy the eats. Shorty’s Grill has a big city bustle, cracker-barrel graciousness, sustaining popularity steeped in history, and the perfect ingredients for a personality that has amassed a loyal following of locals. The grill is a part of the regular routine for folks desiring down-home company and affordable food served quickly and enjoyed among friends. Nick Conner operates the diner with his wife, Jennifer. Conner's dad, David “Shorty” Conner, founded Shorty's Grill almost 45 years ago. “Shorty’s Grill is unique in every aspect,’’ Nick Conner said. “We have good food, Southern hospitality, and personal customer service.’’
It’s A Family Affair
In the rear of Shorty’s Grill, out of the sight of customers, Nick Conner is cooking chicken bog, green beans, and other fixings for the house of food his dad built. He is wearing a gold Cuban link chain, a black T-shirt, a camo baseball cap with the Shorty’s Grill log, and khaki shorts. He is a man who greets customers with sincere salutations each day. He is void of hubris. He is full of deep devotion to carrying on his parents’ legacy. He is proud of his papa, who was a boy when he started his life in the restaurant industry. “Shorty would ride his bike from the Mount Vernon area to Shorty’s Grill,’’ Nick Conner said. “It was about 10 miles, and he would work all day and all night. He would have to ride his bicycle back home. By the time he got back home, it was time to be back at Shorty’s Grill.” To solve that problem, his dad masterminded an unusual but innovative plan. “So, he started sleeping in a jail cell here in town so he could get some rest,’’ Nick Conner said. “He did this on and off for years.”
For 40 years, his dad and mom, Betty, operated the restaurant. Then, about four years ago, they let him and Jennifer take the reins. Jennifer is more introverted and keeps herself fully engaged running the front of the grill. She takes orders, prepares food, greets customers, and zooms back and forth doing whatever is required. Their oldest son, Gage, 21, is a replica of his dad – even down to the jewelry. He does whatever his parents ask. “Gage, I need you to go to the register,’’ his mom tells him after he finishes taking an order at a table of three construction workers. He doesn’t hesitate as he brushes past his mom who is preparing seven hotdogs – all with cheese, chili, and coleslaw draping deep-fried wieners. He says “What’s up” to the customer at the register before checking them out and heading back to wait tables. Gage waited on Marguerite Williamson’s table. She has been a regular for 20 years. “Gage is wonderful,’’ Williamson said. “I told him that if things don’t work out for him behind the counter he can always come and join one of us at a table.”
A Smiling Face in a Friendly Place
Loris residents know Shorty’s Grill is where locals congregate. Frequent visits to 4115 Meeting St. are embedded into the lives of locals. Some have gathered here since the beginning – to socialize over coffee, iced tea, and other non-alcoholic libations. Truly, Shorty’s Grill is the “Cheers” of this city without the liquor. Laughter typically echoes with a continuous song of melodious chatter vibrating from every part of the dining room. Tables, booths, and red bar stools on a black and white checkerboard floor are in this main dining area. Certain groups of friends reside at particular tables. Williamson typically sits alone but will join a table if she spots a friend. No matter where she sits, she always comes to Shorty’s Grill in her finest Sunday attire. Most recently, she wore lavender pants, a matching top, and a blazer of the same color. She completes the look with a lavender and purple paisley bag by Vera Bradley. “I live 10 miles from town, so I come here twice a week,’’ said Williamson, who will celebrate her 83rd birthday soon. “It is all about the fellowship. It is the only restaurant I have been to here where they greet you and treat you like you are related to them.” She is especially fond of Nick Conner because of his personable touch. “When Nick walks through the door, he goes to every table,’’ she said. “He asks how you are doing, but all the staff acknowledge that you are here.” After her standing hair appointment each week, she leaves the beauty salon and heads over to Shorty’s Grill for the chicken bog. Her favorite, however, might be the fried porkchop, which is Wednesday’s special. “When I came in here yesterday, I saw people aged zero to 100,’’ Williamson said. “Any age can get fed in here, and the food is good.” Shorty’s Grill serves grub any self-respecting country eatery knows to have in place including sandwiches embracing fish, bologna, barbecue, sausage, and chicken. Grits, eggs, ham, and bacon are highly esteemed items, with breakfast served all day. Melba Johnson, 82, prefers sticking to hamburgers or hot dogs. She and several friends sit together most days at a table near the rear beyond two pool tables and three arcade games. “I come to Shorty’s Grill every day unless I am sick or have a doctor’s appointment,’’ Johnson said. “I’ve come to know different people. I have made lots of new friends."