The staffer who answered the phone at Shem Creek Bar and Grill the other day wasn’t officially authorized to speak on behalf of the restaurant, but she summarized the feelings of thousands of employees and customers when she learned this reporter was calling about Albert “Big Al” LaPrince.
“A living legend,” she decreed.
As first reported by The Moultrie News, LaPrince this month retired from Shem Creek after 29 years of mixing drinks and shucking oysters. Shy except when stationed behind a bar, LaPrince was known throughout Mt. Pleasant as a kind listener; a prankster and a fast worker who never served a faulty oyster. Charleston City Paper’s Jeff Allen described him as a “one-man, sweat-laden whirlwind of a show unto himself.”
“He’s a gargantuan man, but on the inside, he’s just a big cuddly marshmallow,” says Shem Creek manager Jeff Mellin, who considers LaPrince a personal friend.
Mellin’s concerns for LaPrince’s health persuaded him to side with LaPrince’s wife on the prickly question of how much longer he should work: Customers were devastated when they learned LaPrince planned to give up his shifts. “I finally kind of blew a gasket a couple of times and said it’s not about the business,” Mellin says.
LaPrince as a boy learned shucking from his uncle, who had a habit of tapping oysters before prying them open. “It didn’t really serve as any help,” LaPrince says now. Still, he took the routine to his first job at A.W. Shuck’s, and then on to 82 Queen, the restaurant from which Shem Creek founders John and Angie Avinger recruited him.
Avinger pushed LaPrince to enter the annual oyster shucking contest at Boone Hall, pitting him against his cousin and former A.W. Shuck’s co-worker. LaPrince took the championship so many times that he eventually gave up entering.
“People associate him with Shem Creek Bar and Grill as much as they do John,” says Mellin, adding that the late Avinger’s picture is displayed throughout the bar.
Although LaPrince had scaled back his work schedule after a previous health scare, the 59-year-old says he’s having trouble adjusting to retirement.
“I have to find something to do,” he says. “I miss the job, and I miss the people. I just miss the people so much.”Shem Creek bids