Meet Wanda Howard

By Leslie Moore

Meet Wanda Howard

Wanda Howard, owner of The Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood is sharp and successful; a woman who has worked very hard to build one of the most successful restaurant businesses on the Grand Strand. But, she is also a truly kind person, loved by her family, her employees and the community. The day we met, I walked into the large, 1,000 seat restaurant to be greeted with a smile and kind word by every employee I met before sitting down with Wanda and her daughter Mamie.

Wanda, when did you open Original Benjamin’s and what makes it so special?

My husband and I opened this restaurant in 1989 – he was an adventurer, always trying something new, and he taught me how to pray! We had vision – my family had been in the hotel business and knew that when we were asked where to go for seafood, we had to say Calabash or Murrells Inlet. There was nothing like this in Myrtle Beach at that time.

The restaurant was named for our former partner’s grandson. When he left the business, I wanted to keep the name. It’s the name of one of the twelve tribes in the Bible – one of the successful ones!

This time of year, people look forward to Gingerbread Lane, our gingerbread house contest. It started with just our employees. Now, it’s a regional event, with chefs planning their gingerbread houses as much as a year in advance. It’s very competitive. We also do fundraisers during the holiday season to give back to the community. Cans for Caring benefits Helping Hand and gives our customers $1 off for each canned or boxed food item they bring, up to $15.

This is a family restaurant, run by a family. My five children are all involved. The two youngest are still in college, but the oldest three work with me. I have eight grandchildren under five years old, and they all live close to me. Our employees are like family also. During the busy season, we have 250 employees; many have been here since we opened. You need people to promote your cause and support your vision. I am so grateful for all of them. We even have a model shipbuilder on staff that has restored many of the boats you see around the restaurant. He works here during business hours, and our customers love to watch him and ask questions.

Do you ever want to have more time for yourself? Any plans to retire?

No, I can’t imagine not working. I stay very active – both at work and at home enjoying my grandchildren. Also, my Christian faith is very important to me. There’s no telling what I’ll do next. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of renovations in the restaurant; I never knew I could do construction, but I’ve done it, and in the process, I’ve learned more about myself. I’m single now and have learned to do a lot more. Of course, it helps to have two sons, and we have one employee who only does repairs; he can fix most anything.

Mamie, what’s it like working for your mother?

Mamie: My mother is very strong and comforting to be around. She is so approachable, not just for me, but for all the staff. To know her is to love her. But, don’t mistake her meekness for weakness!

Wanda: I have tried to instill in my children that sometimes people do mistake meekness for weakness, but you do not have to be a doormat. God gives us all the ability to succeed and we don’t have to be mean to get the job done. I work alongside and with my employees.

Visit Gingerbread Lane this holiday season starting the week before Thanksgiving and running through the end of December. Contact Original Benjamin’s at 843-497-7230, or find them on Facebook.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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