THE PLACE TO BE

BY TORI COSCAS | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOLGER OBENAUS

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The first thing you notice about Miss Lulu’s is that it smells good. Not in a perfumy, niceshop kind of way, but in an “I smell really good barbecue” kind of way.

You may have come for a beach bag, but you’ll be staying for the ribs and a vibe that’s been created by personalities that could have been pulled from a novel’s pages.

Don’t feel guilty. You’re at the mercy of Dallas native and longtime Kiawah vacationer Laurie Sands Harrison (who has a— dare I say it—Texas-sized personality), her business associate and best friend, Sloane Hunter, and Carolina master-barbecue champion Tim “J.T.” Handy.

It’s that comfortable, feelsright-to-the-bone kind of beach place you’ve been looking for. You can pick up forgotten vacation items (shorts, a hat, a puzzle), food (patio dining or prepared foods to-go), hostess gifts (tea towels, Votivo candles, gourmet items), souvenirs (painted sand dollars, T-shirts), or park yourself out back and stay awhile. It’s easy to find: Take the first right on the Seabrook side of the Kiawah/ Seabrook traffic circle and enter the old Bank of America building.

“We wanted to create that place that we’ve been looking for all the years we’ve been vacationing here with our families,” Harrison says of her 20-plus years visiting the area with Hunter. “It’s all about family and tradition—we want to be your beach tradition.”

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In four rooms, Miss Lulu’s gets women’s beachwear, loungewear and resort wear right. Other than swimsuits, every kind of comfy beach clothing is here: terry tunics, rash guards, palazzo pants, Bermudas, T-shirts and so on. Styles run from classic to ontrend. Much of it is surprisingly affordable. “I feel like Kiawah has gotten too high-end,” Harrison says. “People with kids need something more reasonable.”

From morning stroll to evening out, a staggering combination of fabrics (linen, cotton, terry, quick-dry), styles and lengths are available in tops, bottoms and dresses. Four generations of women could shop for clothing at Miss Lulu’s and come out happy.

Harrison carries a variety of clothing lines and is constantly seeking and searching for new styles and products. Accessories such as scarves, bracelets, headbands and necklaces are tucked throughout. Kids’ clothing features sea-themed (pirates, crabs, sailboats) and floral items, such as knitted caps, backpacks, rain gear, galoshes and swimsuits.

So just who is this Miss Lulu? Harrison set me straight by singing her self-penned “Ballad of Miss Lulu,” which, if you catch her at the shop, you should really encourage.

“Miss Lulu is an everywoman,” Harrison says. “She’s your aunt, your sister, that eccentric lady down the street who loves life.” She adds: “I think the world’s lost its sweetness. The world needs a mama. Miss Lulu is everybody’s mama.”

Harrison’s inspiration to create Miss Lulu’s comes from watching and learning from her mom, Caroline Rose Hunt, daughter of Texas oil baron H.L. Hunt and founder of the Rosewood Corporation. “I wanted to do something outside the family,” Harrison says. “I asked my mother, who is 92 and still goes to work every day, what the most fun she ever had with her money was, and she said it was owning a store with her best friend.” Hunt’s shop—a Dallas institution—is Lady Primrose’s Shopping English Countryside, an antiques emporium and tearoom. “My mom’s a wise woman, and I mimic a lot of her ways, so I said to my best friend, ‘Sloane, find us a place!’”

The result is Lowcountry with a Texas accent. You’ll find nods to Harrison’s roots throughout the shop: handcrafted cowboy boots from Bodacious Boot Co., Texas Dynamite Bites candy, San Saba River Pecan Pie-In-AJar displayed alongside fresh crab cakes, Buzz’s Butt Dust and Wadmalaw-made barbecue sauce. It all fits together just right. Harrison sought out help from another good friend from Wichita Falls, Texas, Wilma O’Connell. Willie is a fabulous cook who has won numerous first place ribbons at the Texas State Fair.

“People in South Carolina and Texas have a lot of similarities. They think big and they enjoy life,” says Harrison.

She and Hunter put together a dream team of island personalities: Velma Wright, who spent many years at the Kiawah General Store, heads up the kitchen; manager Carolyn Altman came over from Charleston’s GDC Home and keeps things on track day to day; and sales associate Miss Mimi (Price) lights up the place with her chat and charm. Apparently, everyone knows Velma. Harrison concurs: “It’s true. I’ve met people in Cuba who know Velma!”

The cafe serves comfort food at old-timey beach prices from breakfast to dinner. The breakfast menu has all the classics: biscuits, grits, toast, egg combos, bacon, sausage and ham. Lunch and dinner offerings hit that part of the Southern soul that needs barbecue, be it pulled pork, ribs or chicken. Other offerings include salads; the Southern Gentleman burger with caramelized onions, coleslaw and pimento cheese; a kids’ menu and more. Beer and wine round out the scene.

Diners order inside and pick up their food out on the covered patio edged with aluminum planters of cheery begonias. Farther out back, a claw-foot tub filled with sand holds beach toys for the kids. Hula-Hoops loll nearby, awaiting action. Picnic tables with umbrellas flank the pit house and extend the dining area. It’s the kind of place where a person could spend hours. And furry friends are welcome.

In another fine nod to Texas, Miss Lulu’s kitchen serves Rosewood Beef—grass-fed, grain-finished, hormone-free, all-natural Texas beef. “People in South Carolina know good food. We’re not going to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes!” says Harrison.

The pastel pink and green exterior may say “tea,” but Miss Lulu’s is not prissy. “It’s about beer, burgers and barbecue,” says Harrison.

“The whole family can come and stay awhile and be happy. We’re where you come when you want to hear music or watch the game,” says Harrison. “This is where you’re going to want to ride your bike to every day.”

Tori Coscas is a freelance writer from James Island, S.C.