by Sandra Stringer
Coming onto Mosquito Beach for the first time, you notice there’s not really a beach there. No sand, no dunes – just a quarter mile strip of land resting on gorgeous views of water and marsh.
The Island Breeze sits in the middle of a small cluster of buildings, brightly painted with a screened in front porch and a back yard for those who want to sit outside to eat.
The inside of the restaurant is dark and probably a nice cool spot in the summer. Norma Lemon sits down on a rainy Saturday and talks about how it all started.
Seeing it for the first time
Norma used to own a drycleaning business on Folly Road. One day her fiancé Norman Khouri came to her and told her about a place he found for rent on Mosquito Beach.
As a child she visited Mosquito Beach with her father. It had been over two decades since she stepped onto Mosquito Beach.
Her fiancé finally talked her into going for a look at the property, “and as we were coming around the curb, the tide was high…it was a gorgeous day. When you’re a child you don’t really pay attention, you’re just having fun pretty much, so it was like I was seeing it for the first time.”
The place and the view captured her. “And that was it. I said, “Okay, let’s take it on. Let’s see what we can do back here.”
Island Breeze opened in July 21st in 2016.
Putting hard times to rest
Not many people in the community realize that the Island Breeze is there. It’s tough to get the word out, and not many people visit the beach anymore.
Unfortunately, Mosquito Beach has a dark reputation that Norma is trying hard to change. Over the years violence has darkened the little strip of land, the last time being in May of 2014 when a young man was killed as a result of turf war.
It was not the first time something like this had happened, but Norma Lemon hopes with all her heart that it’s the last.
A place of historical importance
Mosquito Beach has an amazing history. Prior to the Civil Rights era, it was the only “beach” that black residents could go to. They weren’t allowed on any of the other local beaches.
Mosquito Beach became their beach, and it was popular. In the 1950s there were several dance clubs, restaurants and a boardwalk pavilion, much of which was later destroyed during big storms in the 1980s and 90s.
Norma feels hopeful that they can bring the beach back to some of the joy that once made the place so popular.
“We decided to do a lot of things at Island Breeze to bring family and friends, one love, back to Mosquito Beach. It’s been an uphill battle, but we’re determined to do it.”
They recently had a tour group from Charleston County Parks and Recreation, an African History tour with the Massachusetts 54 Volunteer Infantry Regiment reenactors.
Fresh seafood with a Jamaican spin
Norma encourages people to come out and try the oxtail (!). The seafood is fresh, delicious, and reasonably priced.
Her fiancé Norman is the cook. He is originally from Jamaica, and the special flare and spice of his original home are reflected in his cooking. Norman came to the U.S. in 1972 but still has his accent, and tells me I need to try his “eye-sters”. He grins and says, “Norma said we should put a little twist to it, put some of that Jamaican spice in there.”
Norman’s special oysters are not on the menu yet, but ask if they’re available and make sure you have something to drink nearby.
They do lunch at Island Breeze Wednesday through Sunday, opening at 12 noon and serving food until 10 pm. Norma describes the nighttime scene as a “lounge…more like a family and friends gathering as opposed to a bar or night club”.
Her hope is to bring all James Islanders, regardless of age or race, to come out and enjoy the beautiful views and their food. “When you come to Island Breeze, we’ll make you feel like family.”
Caring for Mosquito Beach
The James Island Bugle has partnered with Island Breeze for a litter cleanup of Mosquito Beach on Saturday, January 28 at noon. If you have trash bags, feel free to bring them, although Island Breeze will provide some to anyone who needs them.
Also that afternoon, at 4 pm, there will be a Kids Drum Circle. If you have a drum, bring it and if you don’t there will be some available to use.
Sandra Stringer is our Editor.