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Swain's Charcoal Steakhouse: 150 Knox Abbott Drive: 1995   23 comments

Posted at 11:42 pm in historic,restaurants

Well, people have been talking about Swain's in the comments recently, so I think I'll move this post forward in the queue, though I don't have a lot to say about it.

I haven't been able to find out much about Swain's. It was a name I heard growing up, but we never went there, and indeed I wasn't quite sure where it actually was at the time, or now. From this 1970 Yellow Pages ad, it appears to have been a Southern based chain, though I get google hits on locations elsewhere in the country now as well.

You'll notice that the ad doesn't give an actual street address and neither did the white pages listing which simply said "Knox Abbott Drive" -- it's like they thought if you didn't know, you shouldn't go. I had to search up into the 1980s before I found a listing that put them at "150 Knox Abbott Drive". Just from the 1970 ad, I had at first supposed that Swain's was the original tennant in the building now housing Monterrey Mexican, but that is "199 Knox Abbott", which is on the other side of the street entirely. From the satellite view in google-maps, it appears that "150 Knox Abbott" is now vacant (and would be in the vicinity of all the new land clearing on the Guignard Bricks property.

Swain's seems to have been an upscale place with a piano bar. I also notice that like a number of places from the 1970 phone book, they were open past what is considered "normal" (10pm) now -- I wish places still did that.

UPDATE 17 June 2009: Commenter Badger says the place lasted until 1995, so I have updated the closing date from "1980s" to that.

UPDATE 1 Oct 2010 -- Southern First bank is now approximately in the old Swain's location (though the street address for the bank is 190 Knox Abbott Drive vs 150 for the vanished Swain's building:

Written by ted on June 16th, 2009

23 Responses to 'Swain's Charcoal Steakhouse: 150 Knox Abbott Drive: 1995'

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  1. The building was knocked down a couple of years ago and I kept watching to see what thye were going to build there. So far nothing.

    The Monterrey's across the street was originally a Denny's.

    Dennis

    17 Jun 09 at 5:12 am

  2. This location was actually in business as late 1994. Went down the tubes in '95.

    badger

    17 Jun 09 at 9:27 am

  3. Before it was a Denny's, the Monterray's was a place called "Sambo"

    Tom

    17 Jun 09 at 2:20 pm

  4. I used to love to eat at Swains. I think it was supposed to be a somewhat upscale steak house. They had one of the best lunch buffets in the city. Good country food. My favorite was the fatback and the fried chicken.

    Ron

    17 Jun 09 at 2:30 pm

  5. Only in SC could 'upscale' and 'fatback' be used in the same paragraph. (That's not a complaint BTW! :-).

    ted

    17 Jun 09 at 3:25 pm

  6. Something's gone up there now. Maybe a bank or something. It's so new that construction equipment is still in the unfinished parking lot.

    badger

    17 Jun 09 at 7:46 pm

  7. My twin sister worked there in the late 80s, as hostess and bartender. She talked about how old the owners were at that time - the place had a definite retro feel, vibe, and look. The food was good, though! I think the owner's wife's name was Vern? I'll have to call my sister...

    Barbara

    30 Nov 09 at 2:00 am

  8. Swain's had a great seafood bar back in the mid 70's. Some of the best seafood in Columbia at the time.

    Greg

    31 Dec 09 at 10:06 am

  9. My father, John Tsumas was an early partner with Swain's Charcoal Steakhouse. He and Mr Swain grew the business which was spread through the Sun Belt region. Not only did they operate a handful of restaurants, they also owned the meat distributer, suppling themselves with their own meats. I am most familiar with the Charlotte location, being that's were I was born and grew up. My dad's Swain's was located on Morehead Street, across from WBTV. My dad and Mr Swain disolved their partnership in the early 1970s, and my dad continued the Charlotte location under the "Charcoal Steakhouse" name. One story I always remember was when Burt Reynolds and Lonnie Anderson filmed part of the "Stroker Ace" film at the restaurant. Believe me the restaurant was better than the movie. Well, maybe Lonnie Anderson was better than both, haha! The area of Charlotte where the restaurant was located really started to decline, and my father closed the restaurant completely in the 80s and retired. The site still sits empty today, sad for what use to be a vibrant area. I am in my late 30s, and also own a restaurant, and I always like to ask people from my father's generation if they remember my dad's restaurant. I have yet to meet someone of that age from Charlotte, that had not eaten there.

    John Tsumas

    26 Jan 10 at 11:40 pm

  10. That's interesting John, thanks!

    ted

    27 Jan 10 at 1:47 am

  11. i am a black man 66yrs old, i started working at swain,s charcoal stake house,in 1966 i was 18 yrs old at the time.the head cook was named william pretty sr. which is like a father to me to this day.(pretty) as we called him was the best charcoal cook in the country .mr swain(ed)and his wife mae,was the best people i ever worked for in my intirely life.it was a huge kiitchen with three full live charcoal grillsand three deep fryers and three flat grills with three ovens in them.all the meat was cut every day before we opean up.we work from three to 12am. or when ever we got the last customs out and cleaned up. mr and mrs swain worked just as hard as we did and could do it all . we worked hard but it was so much fun, and every body was like a big happy familey.i will never forget it.we fed some of everybody you can think of,and it is an unbeliveable
    story to tell how we sent so many stakes out and partys
    we serve in a days time.i am glad to be able to remmber. and hope to one day write a book about it.

    willie mccoy sr

    1 Jun 11 at 1:06 am

  12. My mom Virgina worked there for twenty or so years. I also work there during my junior and senior in high school. You could say I grew up there. I love meeting my mom there and sitting to wait for her to finish her work late at night. Sometime I'd get there early enough for dinner and the owner/manager vernon anderson would cook me a kansas city sirlion chard rare and a cheese potato. I had that it closed down. It had great food. I also remember when I worked there the carolina football apposing team would stay at the tremont hotel accross the street and they woul walk over to swains for all three dinners in a private room. The entire time at once. I so miss that place!

    paula

    28 Jul 11 at 12:29 am

  13. I also recall mr swain retiring or passing away and his son in law , mr keener (spelling not sure of) ran the business. Vernon anderson was a longtime manager. When mr keener sold the place mr anderson a family tried to make a go of it but was never able to keep it going. Yes. At one time it was an upscale place. In the 60's and early 70,s my mom spoke of only being allowed if you had a coat and tie. I was acually the hat check girl one year to earn money for the summer. I believe that having the awesome seafood buffet started to bring in a lower class which the dress code was set aside. Swains was the meeting place for a lot of business meetings like the chamber and rotary clubs. When we were taught to waitress it was the right way. Not the laidback way of this era waitresses.

    paula

    28 Jul 11 at 12:43 am

  14. I was friends with Carl Anderson (Vern's son). The only thing I know about Vern was that he did own the restaurant at one time which was unusual since he was a full blooded Cherokee Indian. I never once ate there though...

    Ned Harkey

    24 Dec 11 at 12:24 pm

  15. Does anyone know how to make the homemade cheese they used to serve at the Raleigh location? It was sooo good!

    sonya

    14 Jul 12 at 8:13 pm

  16. I'm the ex-step son of Bill Swain (son of Ed Swain).

    When I was a little boy, my mom, sisters, and I lived in a converted 2-car garage behind Swain's Chicken house on Western Blvd in Raleigh (approx 1969).

    When my mom married Bill, we moved to Atlanta to run the restaurant there. Bill ran the Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla locations.

    My mom and Bill were married from approx 1970-1980.

    What a crazy 10 years of our lives.

    Swain's was a great restaurant. The food, service, and atmosphere were great.

    Someone in a prior note indicated how great the buffet was. It was the best! They had great fried chicken and other wonderful country cooking.

    I can vaguely remember the homemade cheese.

    I had many great experiences, and have many fond memories growing up washing dishes and bussing tables as a young boy.

    As a wild teenager, the cook at the Atlanta location (Chester) actually fired me.

    My mom and Bill worked all the time, partied all the time with the clientele, and both suffered from the hard life that the restaurant demanded.

    Interestingly, Bill died around the age of 49 w/ his 5th heart attack, and my mom had her first bypass surgery around the same age.

    This was an era of excess without much concern for one's health.

    It was a time of a lot of hard-work and hard-living.

    What a crazy time of life.

    Frank B. Yarborough

    1 Mar 13 at 8:30 am

  17. I remember this restaurant! I was a very young girl and at that time my Uncle Vernon was running the restaurant! We use to always have family dinner there and I always enjoyed the atmosphere and loving environment! They tried to continue running it after my Uncle passed but weren't very successful. I really hated when they sold the property because they tore it down! For some reason Swain's was on my mind and I was so happy to find this article on here! Made my day! :)

    Victoria

    30 Mar 13 at 10:58 am

  18. Just trying to locate someone.

    My father, at age 23, was put in charge of the Jacksonville store. I grew up on stories of this place and its sounds like an amazing time in history. My father, Sam, always talked about wanting to meet some of the staff today, if any are still alive. But, one in particular. If anyone knows the whereabouts the head chef named Raymond that worked at the Jacksonville store in the early 70s, I would love to reunite them. There were also 2 sisters that worked the bar. Jackie and ____? I am making my first attempts to people search and I will be extremely grateful for any leads that result in a reunion for my father to reflects on those days now that he is retired. Thanks

    billy p

    16 Apr 13 at 1:44 pm

  19. bp16golf AT aol D O T c o m

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    billy p

    16 Apr 13 at 1:45 pm

  20. I ate here once in 1994. Boy was it strange eating BBQ on a table with goblets, polished Silverware and linen tablecloths and napkins.

    SJeffcoat

    18 May 13 at 12:33 pm

  21. Swain's was named for Elbert (Ed) Swain, my uncle. He died in the early 90's leaving the chain of restaurants to his son-in-law Gene Keener who sold them shortly after the inheritance.

    Gloria D.

    27 Feb 14 at 5:02 pm

  22. Just happened upon this due to Gloria D's comments. I found most of the other comments interesting and I think I remember Swain's. I like the idea of wearing a coat and tie to get in, why, I'm not sure. It's just that it struck a note for me.

    Rick

    27 Feb 14 at 5:50 pm

  23. My mother knew Mr. Swain and love to get in touch with the family. Does anyone know how I can do this?

    Thanks!

    Robin

    10 Jul 14 at 7:52 pm

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