Popular spot for Grand Strand veterans is forced to move

A popular gathering spot for Grand Strand veterans is facing a crisis. The owners of the Veterans Cafe and Grille are losing the lease on their building.

When the café opened on Veterans' Day, 2009, owners Lou and Rhonda Mascherino put a note on the back of the menu, asking customers to donate pictures of their family members who were in the military service.

"Next thing we know, we were getting 5 by 7 photos, we were getting newspapers, uniforms, flags," said Lou Mascherino.

Before long, the little eating spot had become a mini military museum, with memorabilia filling up every wall, shelf and corner from floor to ceiling.

It's part of what makes the place so beloved by veterans.

"Everybody loves it, everybody comes, we expect to see each other here every week and it's great," said Vietnam vet Marion Chestnut of North Myrtle Beach.

With a Veterans Administration clinic next door, the café is a convenient spot for vets to catch a bite to eat and swap stories before their doctor's appointments.

But the future of the little eating spot changed last week, when the Mascherinos were told by the building's owner that their lease was up and they'd have to be out by the end of March.

The news caught the Mascherinos by surprise and forced them to look for a place to relocate that would be handy for veterans.

"This is their home. This is their place to come and gather and meet and we want to keep it here, nearby, close to the clinic," Mascherino said.

Regular customers know that there's probably not much they can do to help save the cafe, but if it does have to move, they say they'll be ready to step in to help.

"When it comes time to shut the doors and move everything, they could use all the help they got, to get all the different trophies and papers, uniforms, everything out," said Army vet Scottie Hawkins of Myrtle Beach.

Lou Mascherino, an Army vet himself, has been in the restaurant business for more than two decades and wants to keep going.

"I say they're going to have to carry me out of here. I just love doing it so much."

But now, he'll have to love helping the veterans in a different place.