Jeff and Lauren Tillapaugh share the sweet smell of success

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By Lanier Laney
Lauren and Jeff Tillapaugh are the owners of the wonderful Sweetgrass Restaurant and Outpost Market at the Dataw Island Marina. Jeff’s from an old New York state family and Lauren, born in Virginia, was raised in Georgia.  They met at Disney’s college program in Orlando as undergrads, dated for five years and have been married for eight, during which Lauren earned a Masters Degree in Hospitality Management from Cornell University and Jeff got a Masters Degree in Recreation and Leisure Management from the State University of New York (SUNY).

Jeff and Lauren Tillapaugh are the owners of Sweetgrass Restaurant and are seen holding their daughter, Maren.

Although they aren’t from Beaufort, they both said, “We got here as soon as we could!” Lauren adds, “We began visiting my parents, John and Judy Myers, when they purchased their house on Dataw in 2004, and fell in love with Beaufort. Something about it felt like home to us;  it had many of the things we loved about Ithaca (where we were living at the time) — an intact historic downtown, interesting restaurants, shops and galleries, a unique natural beauty.  And, it’s not nearly as snowy as Ithaca, so we were sold! Already, even if we’re away for just a few days, when we cross the Broad River bridge coming home, we see the marshes, take a deep breath, smell the pluff mud and realize how much we missed being away from Beaufort. We are excited to have the chance to raise our daughter here and want to teach her how to shrimp, sail and dig for oysters like a good Lowcountry girl.”
Their daughter Maren Tillapaugh was born this past March and is “the adopted granddaughter of everyone on Dataw Island,” says Lauren.
Jeff got a job in Beaufort first, working at the University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) as the director of recreation, fitness and intramural sports for about two years. Lauren, who had previously been director of marketing and events for a luxury hospitality management company in New York, was looking for the next right thing for her career when the opportunity to take over the restaurant on Dataw was presented to them.
They both decided to do it and haven’t looked back.
Sweetgrass Restaurant has been open for two and a half years and has received glowing reviews. The Outpost Market next door has been open for a year and features breakfast, lunch and provisions for boaters and islanders.
Their experience opening the restaurant has been “surprising.”
Says Jeff, “Surprising may not be the right word, but we have been completely overwhelmed by how much the Dataw Island community has embraced us.  They have been more supportive than we ever could have imagined and feel less like our customers and more like our family.”
Lauren adds, “The best part has certainly been our  customers and our staff. Our staff goes above and beyond every day for us, for our guests and for each other. We are honored that so many of them have been with us since the beginning and feel that they are part of our family. One of the greatest compliments we ever received was from someone who told us that they just felt good being here — the staff all had smiles on their faces and they felt happy just sitting there watching everyone!  We have so many great regular customers that are in several times a week and they, too, have become a part of our family.  It’s a lot like ‘Cheers’ out at Sweetgrass!  Plus having a baby in this community has been a deeply touching experience!  They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in our case, it takes an island!”
In thanks for the success of the restaurant, the Tillapaughs have given back to the community.
“One of the things we’re most excited by is our Guest Bartender program that allows local organizations to bartend for a night to earn tips for their charity,” said Jeff. “Since we started the program less than two years ago, local organizations have raised over $20,000!”
Lauren said, “We also host can drives around the holidays — people who bring in a can get a free glass of wine or beer with their meal, and we then donate the food to the Franciscan Center.”
Sweetgrass is known for its perfectly fried or grilled locally caught seafood and local produce that makes up a long innovative “sideboard” of Southern inflected dishes like pimento cheese potatoes au gratin, butter bean and basil mash, along with many wonderful salads and desserts.
The Tillapaughs urge you to “Seek out our little riverfront ‘beach house’ — just off the beaten path at the Dataw Island Marina — for an everyday escape that’s closer than you think. Located between Beaufort and the beach, anyone can come by boat or car, whether you live on Dataw or not, to see the beautiful sunsets over the marsh from our dining room, enjoy our great food and friendly service — it doesn’t get much sweeter than this!”
Sweetgrass and Outpost are located at 100 Marina Drive, Dataw Island, SC, 29920. To contact Sweetgrass, visit www.sweetgrassdataw.com or call 843-838-2151; for Outpost visit www.outpostdataw.com or call 843-838-2508.