Fort Mill Times

York County restaurants ready for some football

Diners eat lunch at Sweetwater in Lake Wylie on Thursday, just hours before the University of South Carolina kicks off a full season of local football action that will benefit many area restaurants.
Diners eat lunch at Sweetwater in Lake Wylie on Thursday, just hours before the University of South Carolina kicks off a full season of local football action that will benefit many area restaurants.

Football is back, and one local industry couldn’t be more excited about it.

The University of South Carolina begins its season tonight. Clemson University starts Saturday, and the Carolina Panthers the following Thursday. All that kicking off means all sorts of people wanting to watch. And if they don’t have tickets, they often end up at local bars and restaurants.

Brandon Demby, manager at Sweetwater in Lake Wylie, said it isn’t hard to spot the difference between a summer Saturday and a fall one.

“The volume of people definitely increases,” he said.

Sweetwater is one of many establishments in York County catering to the sports crowd. Televisions and cold drinks are everywhere. People show up to support a wide array of teams, but en masse for a select few.

“Sundays are a great day,” Demby said. “And whenever the Panthers play we always have a big crowd to watch them.”

Professional football is the biggest draw at Sweetwater. The Panthers could play during a mid-week morning rush hour and people would still gather to see them.

“Whenever they play, people are here,” Demby said.

If there weren’t posters everywhere with schedules and start times, some restaurants could pretty close guess the details by their cash registers.

“It always helps to have the game on,” said Jason Cloud at Hobo’s in Fort Mill. “If South Carolina is at home, it isn’t as big. If South Carolina or Clemson are at home, a lot of people go to the games.”

While fans travel to home games, many stay home for night games. Then, there are teams whose seasons go bust early in the fall. The perfect football storm for Cloud would be a weekend with the big local college or pro teams, playing mid-day on the road, to start the season.

“It gets everybody excited, wanting to come out,” he said. “Everybody’s pumped up the first few weeks.”

Restaurants shouldn’t discount Friday nights, either. Especially restaurants like Hobo’s, which sits fairly close to multiple high schools.

“High school football has been great to us,” Cloud said. “We’ve got two high schools, and a lot of people come in early, to pregame.”

Gene Courtney in Clover doesn’t need convincing. Courtney’s BBQ is a go-to stop on fall Friday nights, when Clover High School plays at home.

“The home games, we get a lot of people from out-of-town,” Courtney said. “The other night when we played Ashbrook, we had 10 tables just from Ashbrook. And when Gaffney comes in, we get a lot of Gaffney people.”

Now, the upswing in diners and drinkers during football season works the other way, too. Not all restaurants make hay during the fall.

“We do have the games on all TVs of course, it's just not our primary focus,” said Haven Presley at T-Bones on the Lake in Lake Wylie.

T-Bones does well enough in the fall, but best in the summer when customers come in for the lakefront experience. Weather is major factor there throughout the year. People get together for football there, but it isn’t the main draw.

“Football season begins as our season is winding down, so it's hard to say,” Presley said of its impact. “We naturally slow down as the weather gets cooler. But I'd say we do lose some business to the restaurants that are more sports-oriented.”

Of which there are plenty. To the point where otherwise unheard of happenings occur, like South Carolina fans excited about Clemson predicted to have a standout season. If those Gamecock fans are like Cloud, who obviously wants his team to do better but wouldn’t mind if excitement in Clemson lasts a while.

All it will do is bring more people his way.

“Saturday is an all-day event for us,” Cloud said. “There’s no lunch crowd and no dinner crowd. It’s one big group. People are here all day long.”