After 22 years, Mark and Rita Wolfe saying goodbye to one of Beaufort’s most beloved ‘dive’ bars
When Mark Wolfe first walked into the gas station-turned-bar his wife, Rita, bought on Lady’s Island in 1998, he looked around at the black mold, at the motorcycle burnout and exhaust circles on the floor and ceiling, at the dark, nearly windowless room, and turned to his tearful wife and promised her, “It’s OK, sweetheart, I’ll fix it.”
And fix it, he did.
With fellow retired Marine Steve Tinsley volunteering at his side, Mark began turning The Fillin’ Station into a place where locals and tourists gathered for a drink, for a steak dinner, for the view and, most importantly, for the company.
“We try to treat everyone like family and everyone becomes family,” Rita said.
Twenty-two years and countless improvements later, Mark and Rita are preparing to turn over the keys to one of Beaufort’s most beloved “dive” bars March 6 to new owners Ron and Shannon Boyd.
Out went the pillars for the old gas pumps. In went windows, so Mark could enjoy the view of Factory Creek from behind the bar he manned every day except Sundays when The Fillin Station was closed. Out went the port-o-potties and in went useable bathrooms.
When they started cooking dinners, in went a full kitchen to meet health code, even though the couple continued to cook almost exclusively on the outdoor grill. In went a small porch to replace a rickety picnic table on grass, and later a much larger deck to seat the hundreds of people who came on Friday nights for one of Mark’s infamous steaks.
A representative from the property owner came by early on, saw what Mark was doing to improve the building and said they’d keep the rent stable, a promise kept for more than two decades until the property was annexed into the City of Beaufort.
Tiffany Simmons remembers the first time she came into The Fillin’ Station, well before it became 21-and-up. Last Friday, she sat with Mark cutting out announcements about Rita’s “16th” leap-year birthday party Feb. 29 and prepping scrapbook pages for friends and customers to fill with memories.
“I was only 11 years old the first time I stepped into this bar. My parents were good friends of Mark and Rita,” she said. “There used to be kids running around here all the time.”
The bar developed with time and as needs arose.
Steak night started out free, Mark said, and prices could only go up as costs and demands did.
Over the years, there were hot dog and burger nights, crab legs, fried pork chops, spaghetti and, for those who knew to ask, lumpia egg rolls hand made by Rita, who was born in the Philippines.
Every year, Mark and Rita would take time to go back to Rita’s hometown and take enough to feed 100 families. They handed out bags of food to the poorest people they could find so, as Rita said, “At least for one day they could eat good.”
This year their trip is postponed due to the coronavirus, but she is stockpiling to feed 200 families.
The Wolfes worked hard, side-by-side, with the help of family and friends to create a relaxed and welcoming place.
“That’s the one good thing we have, everyone we have (in Beaufort) comes in here, from every walk of life, and the one thing they have in common is they are all down to earth in here,” Mark said.
“I just want to say thank you so very much for meeting all these great people,” Rita added.
After locking up after Rita’s birthday Saturday night, the couple will return Monday to help the new owners adjust for a few weeks.
Ron and Shannon Boyd moved to Beaufort from Savannah in Oct. 2018. They were looking for a change from Shannon’s long commute and hours in the aerospace industry when they rented an AirBnB on Lady’s Island and ended up stopped at The Fillin’ Station.
Ron had operated two grills and bars in the past and had been thinking about opening another one. So when he bought the property and talked with Mark and Rita about buying the business as well, pieces fell together.
They will celebrate March 6 with a transition party and live music from the Gary Byrd Band.
The couple is excited to take over and plans to keep operations largely the same, although they intend to get a Sunday liquor license so they can do brunch, to add more weeknight dinners and build a college football Saturday crowd.
Over time, like the Wolfes did, the Boyd’s intend to continue the building’s improvements with more outdoor seating, heaters and possibly an outdoor bar.
While Ron said he is not worried about the day-to-day operations and is excited for the challenge, there’s one skill he knows he must learn before Mark steps into retirement.
“I really need him there on a Friday night so I can see how you cook 150 steaks to order (on a Lowe’s charcoal grill) and still remember who they go to,” he said.
It’s only fair to disclose that the writer of this story, as well as this editor, may have spent an inordinate amount of time at The Fillin’ Station, along with an always changing yet solid group of friends sometimes referred to as the North Street Mafia. Let the record show that together and alone at this establishment we have laughed and cried, sung and danced, been fools and kings, whispered and shouted, loved and fought and, above all, made some memories … and some friends. – Mike McCombs
Story originally published by by Erin Moody for The Island News
Photo by Bob Sofaly