When the Cypress Room menu boasts about its use of excellent local ingredients, it's not just talking about the food. In fact, the chef and staff at the family owned and operated Island Vista Resort's on-site restaurant also bring a local flavor to the table, with several employees serving the same roles and guests for several decades.
“I was born and bred here in Myrtle Beach and I've been working for (the Chapman family) since 1973,” said server and guest favorite Phillip Cooper, “so I've seen three generations of families. It's always great to see the same faces come back every year.”
Cooper has had many jobs over his 40-plus-year career, but only one employer. He worked in the kitchen and dining room at the historic Chesterfield Inn until its closure before moving to the old Sea Island Resort, which was leveled to make way for the new Island Vista. During construction, Cooper personally crafted the rich woodwork that lines the walls and ceilings of the Cypress Room, where he also serves as a fixture to repeat guests.
“I plan on being here as long as I can,” Cooper said when asked about his future plans. “I don't play golf and I don't want to sit at home, and I love what I do so why would I want to do anything else? Working here for as long as I have, these people are like family.”
And that family atmosphere is evident throughout the resort and restaurant, where even executive chef Mike McKinnon is a long-time employee and a Myrtle Beach resident. He began working in local kitchens at the age of 12 under his father's tutelage at Kings 17 and got his first job as an executive chef at the old Sea Island in 1988.
Over the years, McKinnon has gone on to earn his degree in Culinary Arts at the local Horry-Georgetown Tech, win numerous Taste of the Tidelands awards, and work in some of Myrtle Beach's most prestigious restaurants, including The Grande Dunes Ocean Resort, Collector's Cafe, and the Carriage House Club. In 2008, he decided to return to his roots at the Cypress Room.
“I couldn't be happier with the way things have worked out, and I still get a kick out of coming to work every day,” said McKinnon, who still works alongside some of the same staff members from 20 years earlier. “We have a great staff and some of them have been here for many years so there’s a lot of consistency.”
McKinnon takes pride in designing a unique and creative menu for guests of the Cypress Room, blending a heavy dose of local seafood and choice cuts of meats with fresh produce and prepared with his background in French-inspired and New American cuisine. But whether it's surf and turf or soup in salad, his fine-dining philosophy is the same.
“A big part of my philosophy is using fresh local ingredients, and over the years I've built up a network of suppliers to get the best seafood and produce,” McKinnon said. “Our menu is probably 75 percent seafood, so finding the best quality is important.”
From the traditional American breakfast to lunch items through the tiki bar, and from happy hour specials to an elegant dinner at the oceanfront Cypress Room, guests can count on the best local ingredients and the best local service. In fact, bartender Grant Nesmith, a Myrtle Beach native who got his first summer job at Island Vista, even serves liquid refreshments with a local flavor.
“I used to sell ice cream by the pool and deliver food to the tiki bar for six years before I moved away,” said Nesmith, who lived in Nashville and New York before returning to Myrtle Beach’s Island Vista Resort in 2014. “Moving home and coming back (to Island Vista) is like coming home to family.”
And the feeling is mutual for longtime guests.
(Photo Courtesy: myrtlebeachoceanfront.net)