As soon as you enter the unassuming sub shop across the street from the Horseshoe, you get the sense that Beezer’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop has a unique culture to it.
Gamecock swag and quotes from athletes such as Mia Hamm and Jesse Owens line the walls. The menu, which dominates the entire right wall, features memorable sandwich names such as the Sicilian and the What’s Up, Doc?
Bill Coomey and his son Brandon opened the shop in 1998 after Brandon graduated from Purdue University. Brandon handles the financial side of the business, while Bill handles in-store affairs.
When Brandon's daughter was two, she coined the restaurant's name by mispronouncing Brandon as "Beezer."
When people ask Brandon Coomey why he started the shop, he'll first say it was purely out of stupidity. But then he'll give the real reason – he was tired of working under others.
“I’m killing myself making them a ton of money, and I'm like, ‘If I'm gonna die, why shouldn't I do it and try it myself?’” Coomey said.
After looking for a place to set up shop from Raleigh to Tallahassee, Coomey said they saw the Sumter Street location and said, “That’s it.”
The location fit all four of their criteria, Coomey said. It’s close to an ocean, on a college campus of 25,000 or more and has a downtown area that can support the restaurant over the summer while students are away. Most importantly, there’s no snow.
One delivery driver, James Carter, has been at Beezer’s since the beginning.
“Former students have come by here, that happen to be in the area, like from 10 or 15 years ago, and they still remember me,” Carter said.
Carter's road to Beezer's was not a straight one, though. In 1993, he lost his bank job due to downsizing. He then worked in a variety of food service jobs, ranging from chains such as Papa John’s to local establishments such as Sammi’s Deli and Publick House.
These jobs helped Carter develop into the “culmination” of his most real self, he said.
“Like I say, it's the real me, personally and spiritually. And God has a purpose for everyone, for everything, you know. So this is my purpose — that's how I look at it,” Carter said.
Carter worked at the Beezer's location before it ever became Beezer's, which is how Coomey hired him.
“James used to be flowing red hair on a moped delivering stuff in 115 degree heat,” Coomey said. “I had students come in and ask permission to be him for Halloween.”
Carter’s hair is still flowing, but it has grayed over time. During his rare time off, Carter said he enjoys watching the classic westerns of Sam Peckinpah and other old films with his two cats, Mama Cat and Sweetie.
Coomey said Carter is essential to Beezer’s culture and to him personally.
“James has been to my house for Thanksgiving. James rents a house for me right now. So, some would say I'm married to him,” Coomey said. “James means more to me than anybody that probably has ever worked here.”
While Carter and the Coomeys have been with Beezer's since the beginning, the restaurant's general manager just started six months ago. After working 70 to 80-hour weeks in a “physically taxing” job, Beezer’s provided Chris Taylor with a way to slow down.
“I used to work multimillion-dollar restaurants, and to go to a mom-and-pop shop, it is a culture shock for me, but it's definitely a different kind of challenge that I was excited for, for myself,” Taylor said.
Almost as soon as he arrived, the restaurant closed due to COVID-19. However, Taylor said the community support and the Coomeys' dedication to Beezer's was always clear.
Changes in Columbia's downtown have created more competition for Beezer’s, with restaurants such as Subway and Jimmy John’s popping up, but Taylor has "big corporate ideas" to take Beezer's into the future.
He said he plans to partner with food delivery services such as DoorDash and Grubhub and launch Beezer’s own independent food delivery website. There’s also been talk of a Beezer’s food truck or food stand.
Despite these changes, employees who have spent any amount of time at Beezer’s know that simplicity is what separates it from the rest.
“You're not gonna wait more than two or three minutes for your sandwich,” Taylor said. “I don't want to bash anybody, but even McDonald's, they're not as fast anymore. Over the years, orders get more complicated; things on the menu get more complicated.”
The menu at Beezer’s isn’t going anywhere though, Taylor said, and if the decades-long careers of the Coomeys and Carter are any indication, neither is Taylor.