by Melissa LaScaleia
Having grown up here, Jack Divine has always called Myrtle Beach home, and started the Divine Dining Group of restaurants in Myrtle Beach in the early 80s. His first restaurant was the classic River City Cafe. He followed it up with Ultimate California Pizza in the late 80s; in early 2000, Bubba’s Fish Shack; Nacho Hippo eight years ago; and Pawley’s Raw Bar five years ago.
He created individual restaurant personalities under one brand, with the common themes of great food, great service, and a great experience.
A brand is a culture, a collection, a belief,” says Mike Tomko, director of sales and marketing for the Diving Dining Group. “A restaurant would be more singular. Our brand is something that our guests know. It’s who we are in terms of the product that we put out, and the service and the experience that people come for.”
Let’s take a look at how the Divine Dining Group has created a series of unique, iconic restaurants in Myrtle Beach, and what each can offer our community.
River City Cafe is well known for their award-winning, handcrafted, gigantic, succulent burgers. In the words of Mike: “it’s massive Words can’t describe it, and you’d be hard pressed to finish it.”
It’s called the OMG (Oh My Gosh) burger, so named after the reactions it continues to evoke upon being presented to the unsuspecting diner. Which explains their tagline— it’s all about the burger. River City Cafe has seven locations. All are fast, casual, and fantastically family-friendly.
What do people love about it besides the burgers?
When you first arrive, they give you an unlimited supply of shelled peanuts to munch while you wait for your food. Guests are invited and encouraged to throw their peanut shells on the floor, which everybody does. It’s perfect for kids, and the kid in you who just needs to break out of some straight laced table manners for awhile. Equally popular, although slightly less messy, are the collection of license plates from around the country that adorn the walls. Since so many of their patrons are tourists, it makes their guests feel a little more at home to spot their native state, and it’s something that has really stuck in the memories of their loyal fans.
Nacho Hippo— where hip happens— is all about having fun in an upbeat and mostly open-air restaurant. Here you’ll find live music, good energy, and an expansive and creative adult beverage menu. Combine that with an extensive handcrafted food menu and you’ve made it to the Holy Grail of Mexican cantinas. You can indulge in their twelve different specialty tacos, sloppy burritos, quesadillas, homemade salsas, grilled corn on the cob, or a giant Mexican salad made fresh in a tortilla shell.
Despite all of that goodness, the foodie buzz always circles back to their monstrously huge nacho selections— a fact from which they derived their name— Nacho Hippo. They serve up hippo-sized nacho creations with toppings like steak, shrimp, pork, chicken, peppers, and fresh veggies.
“It’s a place where you’re going to leave with a hip-tastic attitude,” says Mike. “That’s the satisfaction you feel after you come in and eat some of the best nachos and tacos around, or try one of our award-wining margaritas.”
Nacho Hippo has two locations and a small er outpost at the airport. One location, in the Market Common, has recently expanded their seating capacity— more space for fun in the sun and under the stars.
Ultimate California Pizza has a cool, laidback vibe, with TVs throughout and Top 40 music playing in all six of their locations. And they’re the only restaurant in the Divine Dining Group that also delivers.
Ultimate California Pizza is also known as a fast, casual restaurant that serves perfect pizza that picky people love. They make their pizza with their own signature dough, and their sauce is a proprietary recipe blended exclusively for them. The passion paid— they’ve won the annual Best of the Beach award for the best pizza sixteen years in a row. They have over 25 signature pizzas, as well as gluten free dough and several vegan options. They also have a full menu of salads and subs, and a full bar.
Bubba’s Fish Shack across the street from the ocean, specializes in Southern— both hospitality and food- and very well.
“This is a place where you want to keep your flip-flops on and your napkin ready,” says Mike. “Because whether it’s a rack of ribs, a flounder, or a Captain’s Platter with oysters and shrimp, or all you can eat catfish, salads, clam chowder, Southern style barbecue, or a blackened grouper sandwich, we cover the bases when it comes to Southern; especially protein from the sea.”
The fast, casual restaurant has TVs through- out, and all kinds of nautical paraphernalia that will help you recalibrate into a slower, Southern pace.
“People leave extremely happy and saying, ‘the meal was almost as good as the service,’’’ says Mike. “It’s easy to just feel at home here. You might be from Maine, or Quebec, but you think, after you leave, that you’re from somewhere in Myrtle Beach.”
Pawley’s Raw Bar is a fun place where you don’t mind eating with your hands. It too is a Southern hospitality location— you feel like you’re being served by somebody who wants to serve you, and is thankful that you came. The vibe is similar to Bubba’s, but with a stronger emphasis on seafood. There are five different types of crab, and the steam pot— a one-pot meal famous in the Lowcountry composed of sausage, shrimp, crab, corn and seasonings— will leave you feeling like you’ve just gotten out of your john boat in Murrells Inlet.
The Divine Dining Group is an integral part of the Myrtle Beach community. In the summer, they employ up to 900 people. They sponsor multiple high school extracurricular activities and athletics. And they participate in student excellence awards; last year they gave away 2,500 free meals at their restaurants to students throughout the county—
rewarding them for good grades or consistent attendance.
“There are so many events and causes we donate to and events that we sponsor,” Mike says. “And so much goes unnoticed because we do it for the community, not for advertising.”
They see themselves opening another restaurant at some point— one that’s fast, casual, and ridiculously good of course.