By Lanier Laney
After 16 years in New York City, Beaufort native Nan Brown returned to Beaufort to open the store of her dreams and in the process met the man of her dreams too — City Councilman Mike Sutton.
First, the New York City part, in Nan’s own words:
“I went to NYC to be an actress in the 80’s so I did the whole New York acting thing … spent five years studying with Uta Hagen and HB Studio … was in the cult film “Swamp Thing” in 1981 (I was Swamp Thing’s sister, Linda Holland) and had another small part in a film called “My Boyfriend’s Back.” It bombed at the box office, it was a film about zombies.
When I went to New York I didn’t have a job or a place to live, just packed a bag and went. I slept on a couch of a friend of mine for three weeks and then got a job as an au pair for the first three years I was there.
But then I got into the catering business after that and spent 11 years as the director of service for an exclusive caterer inside the United Nations and managed all the private parties there. It was a fascinating, but stressful, job. We handled all the state functions for the Secretary General which meant state luncheons and receptions for all the heads of nations.
The most fascinating year was the UN’s 50th anniversary where in one room one day we took care of Fidel Castro, Yasir Arafat, Margaret Thatcher, Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton, Vaclav Havel and many others — and that was just one day. You name the Head of State and I probably took care them over that 11 year period. My favorite Secretary General was Kofi Annan.
We handled all the private receptions for every country in the world and one of my memories that stands out was the night we were doing a reception for Iraq and, as usual, I approached the ambassador (as I did for every function) to introduce myself, put my hand out to shake his and he pulled his hands behind his back. It was my first introduction to the Muslim world and what they think about women. Thereafter, I decided to let my counterpart, who was a male, do all the Iraqi parties.
My other favorite story was when Richard Nixon came to lunch and it was a private luncheon for about 20 people and one of the African ambassadors who was attending and was French speaking motioned to me and then his mouth and said the words ‘to speak.’
And so I said, ‘You want to speak?’
And he shook his head no. ‘To speak. To speak,’ he kept saying.
Finally I figured out he wanted a ‘toothpick!’ And in the middle of this I looked over at Richard Nixon at the head of the table and he was winking at me.”
Her thoughts on Beaufort:
“My father, Ned Brown, who was born here in 1923 on Parris Island, always called it paradise and as I’ve gotten older, I see what he means — it is paradise. I don’t know how many places have the combination of natural beauty and history. The downtown part with a beautiful waterfront park and a shopping district.”
How did she decide to open Lulu Burgess on Bay Street?
Says Nan, “My friends say they remember me talking about opening a store when I was in college, but I took a long detour to New York City for 16 years and then opened it!
I came back to Beaufort in 2000. My mother was sick and I decided to come back to be with her for the end of her life, and then I opened Lulu Burgess not long after she passed away. I wanted to have a fun, affordable place to shop — a place to find cool gifts for not a lot of money that you didn’t have to drive to Savannah or Charleston for. And now Lulu Burgess has been open for 11 years.”
How she met Mike:
“We met in Old Bay Marketplace. He and his brother were the general contractors for the renovation of Bay Marketplace back in 1999-2000 and he was standing in what is now Lulu Burgess and I came in to ‘check my space’ because I had just rented it, it was a pizza parlor at the time. He had on his hardhat — he said he felt like he looked like one of the Village People. So we’ve been together for 11 years, married seven. He asked me to pick a wedding date that he could always remember our anniversary, so we got married on New Year’s Eve.”
Mike was born in Jacksonville, Fla., then moved to Fripp Island when he was 6 years old. His father, Bob Sutton, was the man who brought the dredge up from Georgia in the early development days of Fripp Island. Mike’s family was one of the first families on Fripp. Mike’s business is Sutton Construction and he’s a residential and commercial contractor.
Mike’s also been a hardworking city councilman in Beaufort for six years. I asked Nan what was that like. “It’s a tough, thankless job. I go to just about all the meetings and have learned an enormous amount about city government. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is before you complain about something, make sure you know both sides of the story.”
I have to say that Lulu Burgess is one of those great and unique stores that really make Beaufort “Beaufort” and her whole team there is super. I remember when I went in there 10 years ago, I thought “what a cool store and town to support a store like this” and that helped me to decide to move here. I’m sure other people have thought so too.
Mike has been a committed city council member over the years and I think we are so lucky to have these two people who have given back so much to all of us here in Beaufort. I’m sure you will join me in wishing them a wonderful wedding anniversary this New Years Eve!
Lulu Burgess is located at 917 Bay St., Beaufort, SC 29902. (843) 524-5858.