“Beef tongues, $3.99 lb.”
“The best liver and rice pudding, $2.79 lb.”
“Small head-on suckling pigs!!”
The prices scrawled with a black marker onto Styrofoam trays hanging above the display counter at Marvin’s Meats only begin to tell the story of this iconic Hollywood, S.C. market. Anyone who has ever driven State Road 162, en route to Edisto Island, has at least a passing familiarity with the sprawling red building and its vast array of lumber and random hardware (including a merry-go-round horse) scattered across the yard.
Frank Marvin opened the store on Halloween in 1951. Built atop the site of a former drive-in movie theater, Marvin’s Meats began as a slaughterhouse, supplying Charleston’s first McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s with ground beef patties. It’s grown into a full-on catering business, a rummage shop, and the go-to place when a whole hog is on the menu for a wedding, party, or a gathering just for the sake of pickin’ a pig.
Half a century after opening to the day, Frank Marvin is calling it quits.
“Nobody done believe it, but there comes a time,” says Marvin, leaning back in his office, a veritable museum to both his business and the corner of rural Charleston County where he’s spent his life. Yellow, tattered newspaper clippings hang from every wall, going back decades. Notebooks and tools fill every cubic inch of space under tables. The horns of giant steers are mounted on the walls.
Born and raised in nearby Meggett, Marvin went off to college at the University of Georgia. In Athens, he befriended a professor who found him a job in the local processing plant, making 65 cents an hour. Growing up, his family raised and butchered about a dozen hogs each year, so the work came naturally. He often talked about going into business for himself. Soon after graduating and returning home in 1959, UGA moved their animal husbandry program to a new building, auctioning off all their meat processing equipment. Marvin’s professor called him up on the phone.
“I said, ‘How would I keep up with what to bid?’ and he said, ‘Frank, don’t you worry about that. I control the bids,'” recalls Marvin. “Anyway, he called me back about three or four weeks later and says, ‘You got the cooler doors, you got the hog dehairer, you got the scalding vat — everything that was in this plant.’ I said, ‘I don’t know how I can pay for that,’ and he said, ‘Frank, bring me $213, and you’re gonna need a few trucks.'”
With the equipment secured, Frank focused his attention on acquiring the 10.5-acre lot where he’s been based ever since. The owner of the movie theater did business with his father-in-law, selling him potato sacks and baskets for his produce company. It only took pointing out his importance as a client to convince the Walterboro man to sell the property. Marvin spent the next month camping on the land, clearing a stand of pine forest by day and staying up all night to build the slaughterhouse and salt and curing rooms.
Marvin’s wife doubted the remote location would prosper so far from Charleston, but the budding entrepreneur had a simple business plan he knew would work.
“You treat people right, give them a good product and a smile when they walk in the door, and always tell them thank you,” he explains, adding that whether your order is $500 or $20, it’s still free if he or his employees forget to say ‘thanks.’
That neighborhood atmosphere is evident from the moment you enter Marvin’s Meats. A sign outside (one of many) reads “A Division of Sanford and Sons,” and the comparison to the television family’s junkyard shop is more than accurate. In addition to rabbit, goat, pig, and cattle, shoppers can pick up a pair of water skis, a box of canine de-wormer, or a telescope. Marvin frequents flea markets and auctions, purchasing anything and everything that might have resale value or be useful to his customers. The shop is such a projection of his personality that it’s hard to imagine him leaving it behind.
People drive from Mt. Pleasant to buy meat from Marvin. Last week, a customer reminded him that his family has been loyal since 1962. Former S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Les Tindal touted Frank’s Fresh Pork Skins as the best in the world. Plenty of other customers reach back to the ’70s, relying on Marvin’s for their family’s protein.
“I’ve probably been coming here for 25 years,” says John Bennett, a customer who regularly makes the drive from Adam’s Run to buy pork and beef. “When Frank closes, we’ll be at the mercy of the grocery stores. He’s always looked after his customers. He certainly has the right to retire, but we sure wish he’d stay.”
It’s not the first time Frank Marvin has tried to retire. In 2001, he started hinting at the possibility. His son, Randy (who owns the Gilligan’s chain of seafood restaurants), took him seriously, running a farewell ad in the newspaper and throwing his father a retirement party, attended by notables like former Rep. Henry Brown and Sen. Arthur Ravenel.
Early Monday morning, Randy rode past the shop to find his father’s truck parked outside. “He said, ‘Daddy have you lost your mind?'” laughs Marvin. “I said, ‘I tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna semi-retire.'”
Since that day, Marvin’s has been open from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., allowing him the afternoons off. Marvin also operates a lumber yard out of the property that he’ll keep open indefinitely, and his catering business grows in popularity each year (“We furnish everything from the prayer to the toothpicks,” reads his truck).
“I’ve cooked a lot of pigs in my life,” says Marvin wistfully. “I can’t retire.”
But come November, if he holds to his word, the storefront Marvin’s Meats will officially close for business. Everything in the freezers will be discounted up to 25 percent off starting Mon. Oct. 31, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. The St. Andrew’s Society will have to find someone else to make their haggis. Hollywood locals will have to drive farther afield to get whole rabbits (if they can find them at all), and they probably won’t be $8.95. Finding goat meat may become impossible in Charleston.
Of course, Frank Marvin deserves the break. He’ll have more time to spend with the six pet monkeys he keeps at his home down the street and to sort through the half-century of memorabilia stacked across his office and acreage.
It’s not lost on Marvin that his sort of butcher shop is a dying breed — one where everything from the pig’s feet to the cow’s tongue has a purpose and value (“We eat every part of the pig but the squeal,” quips Marvin). That’s a culinary legacy one can only hope will survive and persevere with the same zeal as Marvin’s Meats has for the last 50 years.
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