Langston family continues Lilfred's tradition of fine dining in Rembert

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 10/14/18

REMBERT - They call it "a touch of modern on an old tradition."

They are Trent and Wendy Langston, and for more than a decade now the husband-and-wife team has owned and operated Lilfred's on 8425 Camden Highway/U.S. 521 North in the small …

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Langston family continues Lilfred's tradition of fine dining in Rembert

Posted

REMBERT - They call it "a touch of modern on an old tradition."

They are Trent and Wendy Langston, and for more than a decade now the husband-and-wife team has owned and operated Lilfred's on 8425 Camden Highway/U.S. 521 North in the small town.

Originally opening in 1951 as Lilfred's Grill, the venerable fine-dining restaurant has been open now for 67 years.

In its first half-century in business, the eatery was fortunate to have a few great and visionary ma tre d's and executive chefs as owners who helped it take off and sustain popularity in the region through the mid-2000s, Trent Langston said.

Langston grew up about 10 minutes down the road in Dalzell and said his grandparents and parents frequented Lilfred's and told stories about those visionaries who helped put the little restaurant in this little town on the map.

Lilfred's became well-known for its steak and seafood offerings with a Lowcountry flair and signature coleslaw and homemade croutons, he said.

As a kid, Langston said he remembers coming in and buying the signature slaw to take back home.

In 1999, he met his wife, Wendy, a Columbia native, and one of their first dates was to the legendary locale.

In college, Trent realized he could major in something he loved - cooking - and make a career of it. He eventually graduated from culinary arts school at Trident Technical College in Charleston in the early 2000s with a degree in catering. Wendy grew up working in the food and beverage industry and enjoyed it, as well. In their college years, both worked in restaurants in the Charleston area.

Fast forward to 2007, and Trent and Wendy are married, living in Camden and in their third year with a catering business and also leasing a casual-dining bar and grill on a golf course in Lugoff, just outside Columbia.

Some of their friends from back home in the Boykin/Rembert area were clientele at their Lugoff restaurant and told them Lilfred's was for sale at the time and thought it would be a great fit for them.

"Initially, we kind of told them, 'We're fine where we're at,'" Trent Langston said. "'We're almost out of debt.'"

But the friends kept coming to the Langstons, and after conversations with Lilfred's owners at the time - Juanita and Douglas Britton - Trent and Wendy realized that, with a mortgage, Lilfred's would be more of an investment for them as opposed to just paying rent in Lugoff.

They bought it from the Brittons in December 2007, made some interior upgrades and reopened Lilfred's in February 2008.

Through the years, the Langstons said, some things have been added or tweaked, but many things have stayed the same to maintain the Lilfred's tradition.

As more people have moved away from the small town since the 2000s, the Langstons said they've had to go down from operating four nights per week to three: Thursday through Saturday. Hours each night are 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

"We just couldn't pull the clientele out here on Wednesdays," Trent Langston said.

Thursday has become popular as a "deal night," he said, with a four-course meal for $25, and has now become a little busier than Friday and Saturday.

Friday and Saturday nights are more popular as quaint "date nights" and include full-course entrees, such as "Lilfred's special" 12-ounce ribeye, Wendy Langston said.

"People who want that ultimate Lilfred's traditional dining experience, then they choose probably Friday and Saturday," she said.

But the Langstons' goal has always been to maintain an intimate atmosphere at Lilfred's, she said, and they always allow at least two hours per table before turning it. Volume has never been a goal, she said.

About six years ago, the Langstons expanded their catering-business territory, acquiring Summerton-based Creative Catering in Clarendon County. Most of the cooking is done in the Lilfred's kitchen.

They've catered for a total of 14 years now and generally travel within a two-hour radius of the restaurant.

"With Trent's degree in catering, our roots are catering, and we enjoy doing it," Wendy Langston said.

Trent is executive chef at the restaurant, and steak and seafood are still in the forefront of Lilfred's menu. Coleslaw is still a signature dish and is "as close as you can get to the original slaw from the 1950's," Wendy Langston said.

She said Trent has added some game to the menu and brought to Lilfred's a complimentary gift taste from the chef to start the dining experience.

A couple of those tastes have become Lilfred's appetizers and catering items, she said.

They have also brought baked pimento cheese to the area for finer dining restaurants, she said. That trend started in Charleston, and now Lilfred's has it as an appetizer served with homemade croutons. The Langstons also sell their pimento cheese to area grocery stores, Wendy Langston said.

When they started in 2008, Wendy was Lilfred's ma tre d, but with two children now she has backed off some. She still handles "the front of the house" at times, she said, and runs the business side of the restaurant.

Lilfred's does take walk-ins, but reservations are recommended, she said.

The Langstons said they have loved the experience and look forward to continued success.

The clientele is what they like most about Lilfred's, they said. Many couples in their 60s or 70s who regularly dine at the restaurant started dating there, Wendy Langston said.

A lot of couples make it a tradition to come to Lilfred's on their anniversary, she said.

"There is a lot of history not only in the building, but in the stories that come along with the clientele that come in," Wendy Langston said. "It's just that sweet place. It's not just because it has pine walls, but it's truly because of the stories of the clientele."