By Lanier Laney
You only have to drive by one of Tom Oliva’s two successful Dockside Restaurants to say to yourself, “That guy knows what he’s doing!” The new Lady’s Island location has been packed to capacity since the day it opened last February, an extremely rare achievement in these challenging economic times. And the Port Royal restaurant that he started on 11th Street 18 years ago has become an institution with locals and tourists alike who return year after year.
Tom grew up in Sommerville, Mass., a Boston suburb, where his mother worked long hours as a waitress at the renowned Carrol’s Diner in Medford, Mass., and his father was foreman in a construction company. He got his first job in the food industry at age 16, “peeling shrimp and snapping
beans,” says Tom. “We were a large family and we all did our part in the kitchen. As in any family, food was central to celebrating special occasions and gatherings. I look at it as a creative process; add a bit of this, a pinch of that and a work of art is created.”
After years of working in restaurants, “learning, like so many others, in the ‘school of hard knocks’, “ said Tom, he decided to head South one year after shoveling 3 feet of “precipitation” which was predicted by the local weatherman, Don Kent.
Boston’s loss proved to be Beaufort’s win.
He attributes his success with restaurants to “the many mentors I had along the way who let me in on their techniques and little tricks that made the difference.”
Currently he runs the day to day operations (seven days a week) of the two restaurants and sees his job as making sure “my guests receive the best in service and food quality. Our motto at both restaurant locations is ‘No one will leave hungry,’ ” says Tom, adding, “We also have many great staffers who have been with me from the get-go. I believe that a happy service staff results in happy customers.”
He met his wife Katie while working at Dockside. Katie was the manager. They’ve been married for the past eight years and have a son Owen, 5, who is starting kindergarten this year. He has two lovely daughters from a previous marriage — Emmaline who is 16 and currently lives with her mom in Charleston and her big sister Jennifer.
Tom has enjoyed his decision to start a business in Beaufort. “There is a friendliness that is open and honest among the people I have had the pleasure to work with. Being in the restaurant business brings me in contact with wonderful customers from all over. I love hearing their stories and love seeing the same faces year after year,” he said.
He is also an avid motorcyclist, has flown ultralights, tried his hand at Formula One car racing and he’s had a passion for flying for the past 10 years. For relaxation, he creates art crafted from driftwood or reclaimed wood. Beautiful examples of his talent can be seen hanging in both restaurants.
Tom also believes in giving back and supporting the local community and Dockside Restaurant has always contributed to a myriad of local charities and fundraisers.
As for the future, Tom says, “My plans will be to continue to work hard to provide my local customers and tourists alike with the best seafood ever! And to keep enjoying our wonderful Beaufort lifestyle. My personal philosophy is that one should treat life as an adventure and have fun!”
Port Royal Dockside
1699 11th St. West, Port Royal
Phone: 843-524-7433 www.11thStreetDockside.com
Lady’s Island Dockside
71 Sea Island Parkway, Lady’s Island
Open Daily 4:30 to 10 p.m.