BIRTH OF A LEGEND
Melvin's grandfather, Mack Bessinger, married Lizzie Whisenhunt, of the Orangeburg Whisenhunts, in the 1888, built a farm on her family's land in Orangeburg and started a family. "Big Joe" Bessinger was one of the couple’s 12 children, and he married Genorah Thomas in 1912. Big Joe and Genorah had 11 children of their own, including Melvin, born in 1923.
A FAMILY SECRET & THE HOLLY HILL CAFÉ
Big Joe's love of cooking led to the invention of his incredible Golden Secret Recipe BBQ sauce in 1933 and when Melvin was 10 years old, Big Joe shared the secret recipe with him. Word of Joe’s incredible bar-b-que sauce spread, and in 1939, he opened the Holly Hill Café. Years later, when Melvin returned from WW II, he went to work with Big Joe at the café, until the Great Depression hit, and the bar-b-que legends had to close their doors. Big Joe returned to farming, but a few years later Melvin returned to bar-b-que.
1946 – EAT AT JOE’S
In 1946, with Big Joe, Melvin bought land on Main Street in Holly Hill and built a landmark: a simple ode to his father, called "Eat at Joe’s." All of the great, secret recipes (all committed to memory rather than written down!) dinner from his mom and dad's table made their way to the customers’ tables – and kept them coming back for more.
1961 – MELVIN’S PIGGIE PARK DRIVE-IN
Though invested in the family business Melvin took time to attend college at the Citadel in Charleston, SC, and graduated in 1951. His time in the Lowcountry and time in the restaurant business helped him develop a bar-b-que concept no one had ever seen. His brother in-law, Ronald Boals, came up with the catchy name and Melvin's Piggie Park Drive-In was in business from 1961 until 1971, run by Melvin himself.
THE BESSINGER BRAND
In the 1970s, the Bessinger “brand” took shape as an eat-in and drive-through buffet restaurant, with Melvin as Founder and CEO. Melvin’s son David became more involved in the family business, and in the 1980s, the men ventured into the retail world of sauces with their Original Golden Secret BBQ Sauce. By 1990, they sold their location on Savannah Highway along with a couple of the secret recipes to a silent partner. As one might guess, Melvin taught them everything they know but not everything he knows.
MELVIN’S LEGENDARY BAR-B-QUE
Melvin and David set out to open a widely successful chain of restaurants, and thus Melvin's Legendary Bar-B-Que was born! The chain grew to eight locations, from Charleston to Hilton Head. By 1992, Melvin finally decided to slow down a bit, with two Charleston-based restaurants.
THE LEGEND CONTINUES
After 71 years of serving the "Best Ribs and Que in South Carolina," Melvin Bessinger retired in 2004. However, the legacy and tradition continue – with the inspiration, love, recipes, family and customers – who keep it going strong.
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