The family kitchen is one of the most iconic settings in American culture. It’s the place in our memories where our favorite meals were prepared, traditions were shared and our families gathered to spend time together. For the Hamby family, the kitchen was all of these things and more. In 1979, it’s where Mrs. Hamby helped a friend prepare a meal and Charleston’s longest running catering company was born.

Growing up the youngest of eleven children in upstate Williamston, South Carolina, Mrs. Hamby learned how to cook on a wood-fired stove in her large farm kitchen. Her mother shared family recipes and stories, which usually involved food in some indirect way. Sunday dinner at the Hamby household brought as many as fifty friends and relatives. It’s almost that Mrs. Hamby was destined to start a thriving catering business, as feeding large groups of people was an innate talent.

When her close friend asked for help with preparing her daughter’s wedding reception food, Mrs. Hamby offered up her kitchen and cooking. Now into adulthood, Mrs. Hamby loved to entertain and was known for her delicious Southern, family recipes. She agreed to craft a special menu for the bride and groom (and 400 guests!) with some of her favorite dishes. She delivered the meal for the event, unaware that she was about to embark on a career-defining moment.

To Mrs. Hamby’s surprise, the wedding guests couldn’t stop raving about the food. With all of the positive reviews and immediate catering inquiries, she saw an opportunity to turn her talents and love for entertaining into a legitimate business. With the support of her family, Mrs. Hamby embraced her entrepreneurial spirit (a true pioneer of her time!) and she and her husband began working together to cater Charleston events, focusing mostly on weddings and cocktail parties.

Her children said it best when reflecting on their mom’s time in their family kitchen and fledgling catering business, “Mother’s trademark, established early in her career, extends well beyond the expectations of elegant and delicious cuisine. It is one of grace that expresses her genuine love for people and joy in presenting them with unforgettable food experiences.”

The catering industry in the late 20th century was very different from the one we know today. Without personal computers and widespread internet, all orders and appointments had to be booked and meticulously tracked by pen and paper or with the hot accessory of the time… the PDA! Because Hamby Catering’s growth was organic, Mrs. Hamby began receiving orders via word of mouth. Mostly she would book business by referrals. The bride’s family would say, “we attended the Smith’s wedding and would like that menu to be served at our daughter’s wedding, too.”

Menus were handwritten and menu planning, food prep and ordering were all done by hand. It worked like this: clients would call Mrs. Hamby, ask to book an event on her calendar and Mrs. Hamby would handle the rest. She had built a strong reputation in the community and clients trusted her to deliver her Southern flavors and hospitality at their events.

Starting the business from scratch, there was no playbook to consult to determine how much food needed to be prepared, packaged or delivered. It was a true trial by error time period! However, it worked and demand for Hamby Catering began to rise. Soon, the company was known for Mrs. Hamby’s signature sandwiches, shrimp and tenderloin.

Buzz continued to spread across the Lowcountry and the company quickly began taking on new types of events, including anniversaries, rehearsal dinners, funerals, graduations, christenings and more.

After a few years of running the company, Mrs. Hamby met Mrs. Anna Mae Patrick, the Caterer and Director of Food Services at the College of Charleston. Mrs. Patrick became a trusted mentor, sharing her expert advice and guidance with Mrs. Hamby to help her continue expanding her business.

It only took a few years for the family business to outgrow the family kitchen. Mrs. Hamby decided it was time to move operations to a bigger space and found her first storefront on Highway 61, just a few miles from our current location on St. Andrews Boulevard. With this new space, Mrs. Hamby was able to hire staff and begin serving even bigger events. The name “Hamby” quickly became synonymous with Lowcountry fine dining.

The first ten years of Hamby Catering was full of big wins and the decade ended on an unforgettable note. On September 22, 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit the coast of Charleston with wind speeds of 87mph. It was the most catastrophic storm in the state to date and it left destruction in its path across Lowcountry. But even the storm couldn’t stop four weddings that were scheduled on Hamby Catering’s calendar for the weekend.

The 80s came to an end just as it began – as a whirlwind. But Hamby Catering’s Charleston legacy was just getting started.