MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) — Lou and Rhonda Mascherino celebrated the opening of their new restaurant, Veterans Cafe and Grille, on Veteran’s Day 2009.

Fast forward 12 years, and the quaint spot in Northgate Plaza has turned into what’s arguably known as Myrtle Beach’s own military museum.

From the moment you step foot inside, you can’t help but be humbled by the restaurant’s decor. Hundreds of pieces of military memorabilia — from uniforms and newspaper articles to photographs and flags — cover its walls from floor to ceiling.

All of it is donated, and what’s been collected started off as a call for military pictures on the back of a menu.

Every picture, uniform, flag and hat at the cafe has its own unique story tied to our nation’s bravest.

“Everyone on these walls has proven how big of a hero they are to this country,” Lou explained.

That’s why you could say every meal served at the restaurant is a labor of love for the Mascherinos. The restaurant’s small staff whips up food in the back while its customers — many of them veterans — engage in a special kind of fellowship around the tables.

“We’re not here just for the veterans. We’re here for the whole community,” Lou said. “It’s their place to come. It’s their home – home away from home. They come here (and) they talk. They meet with other veterans (and) swap war stories.”

Through the years, Veterans Cafe and Grille has become a larger-than-life walk through history. However, it’s also become a charitable staple local veterans groups like Kris Tourtellotte’s have come to depend on. He founded the Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center in Little River.

“People don’t know how much money they have donated to this community — tens of thousands of dollars. $60,000 in my center alone that I can remember,” he said.

The cafe also supports other local groups like Blue Star Mothers and Quilts of Valor. To date, the Mascherinos say they’ve given back about $130,000 to the community and has a fund in place so that no homeless veteran ever goes hungry. In return, the community and its veterans has backed up the beloved cafe through thick and thin. First, COVID-19 hit and then came a two-month shutdown over the summer as Lou battled some health issues.

Many will say it left a big void.

“For me, and probably everyone else, it’s just like missing a part of your soul,” Tourtellotte said.

Each time the cafe faced troubled waters, the community helped it back on its feet.

“We never realized how much the community felt about us,” Lou said. “We’ve always done things for the community and that was the community paying us back.”

That’s proof, though, that what happens here stretches far beyond a bite to eat and friendly conversation. Everyone is family.

“I want to hope and pray that this’ll be here for a long time to come,” Lou said. “Even after we’re gone, it should still be here. Veterans have a place they can come and get together.”

He hopes it’ll always be a reminder to never forget the brave men and women we owe our freedom to.

“They’re here for a reason and that reason is they are veterans, and they served our country and that means the world to us.”