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BASIL'S: Raising the dough for 15 years

It was 8 o’clock on a Friday night, and on Wilmington Island, Basil’s Pizza & Deli was hopping.

Outside, near the deck, the band Savannah Kings was playing. And, under their mothers’ watchful eyes, three 6-year-olds were dancing to the music.

In the 85-seat dining room, several families were having dinner. While the parents ate and carried on adult conversation, half a dozen of their children played and watched “My Favorite Martian” on a flat-screen TV in the Basil’s kids’ room nearby.

A monitor in the dining room displayed what the children were doing so their parents could keep tabs on them while eating.

Nine-year-old Kieren Bryan said he loves the kids’ room.

“I like it so I can spend times with other kids,” he said.

Kieren’s mother, Jan Bryan, likes it too.

“It’s a comfortable place for kids to interact and get the heck away from us,” she said.

Plus, Bryan said, Basil’s is a great place.

“The service is good,” she said. “And the pizza is fantastic!”

Meanwhile, in the packed bar, Basil’s regular Dawn McKinstry was finishing dinner with her family — husband John, daughter Sarah Thompson of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Thompson’s daughter Nora, age 7.

“We come here once a week. It’s just always been our local pizza place,” said McKinstry, a Wilmington Island resident.

“And it’s got the bar and the music.” Added John McKinstry, “There are more than 20 craft beers. And the bar staff are great. They know us on a first-name basis.”

Fifteen-year-old Basil’s is a family-owned, family friendly restaurant.

Diana Keck and Amanda Keck Grady are the co-owners. Amanda’s husband Ryan Grady is the general manager of the restaurant that has become a gathering place for people from Wilmington Island.

Basil’s also has a thriving take-out business and delivers to Wilmington, Whitemarsh, Oatland and Talahi islands. And it has a catering business, too.

If Basil’s were completely full, it could hold a maximum of 218 people, Ryan Grady said.

Why is the restaurant a success?

“Hopefully because people feel comfortable here and there’s consistently good food,” said Keck who was having dinner at her restaurant that Friday.

Added Ann Grady, Ryan Grady’s mother, who was sitting with Keck, “It’s a good neighborhood restaurant.”

In an interview a few days later, Ryan and Amanda Grady ticked off other reasons for their success.

“We try to make something for everybody,” Amanda Grady said. “We’ve had people get engaged here.”

Basil’s has hosted baby showers and fundraisers for the Wilmington Island Farmer’s Market. And on Feb. 1, the Islands YMCA held its kickoff party for its annual fundraising drive at Basil’s.

The name Basil’s comes from the name of the Amanda Grady’s 17-year-old son. His legal name is William but “his baptismal name is Basil. We’re Greek,” she said.

Keck and Amanda Grady got the idea for the restaurant in about 1999.

“I spent 15 years with a pizza company. I was a franchisee. I had several stores and one was in Wilmington Island. I live in Wilmington Island,” Keck said.

“We wanted to do an independent restaurant that would use better quality products that people on the island would enjoy,” Amanda Grady said. “In a franchise, they tell you what cheese to use, how to make your dough.”

Keck wanted to create products that were “superior in her eyes” to what the franchises were producing, Amanda Grady said.

Basil’s opened April 1, 2000, in about 1,300 square feet of leased space on Johnny Mercer Boulevard. The menu included a variety of pizzas, sandwiches, salads and Greek foods like dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with seasoned beef and rices). Desserts included tiramisu, Greek pastries and baklava.

Five years later Keck and Amanda Grady added the dining room in about 1,500 square feet of leased space in the same building. They took over space that had served variously as a gift shop, a scrapbooking store and an H&R Block office.

Keck and Amanda Grady did a lot of the renovation themselves.

“We didn’t have a lot of money. We were small then,” Keck said.

“They hand-painted the concrete floor to look like bricks,” said Ryan Grady,

“We painted the ceiling. We painted the walls,” Keck said.

“The kids room was put in. I got the idea from a restaurant in Florida,” Amanda Grady said. In 2010, Basil’s was doing well, and Amanda Grady and Keck were able to buy the building. That gave them another 1,500 square feet on the building’s south side.

First they opened a yogurt shop; then they turned it into a bar that opened in August 2014.

“We spent the entire summer putting it together,” Ryan Grady said.

They had an architect, Amanda Grady said, and instead of renovating the space themselves, they hired a contractor and used furnishings from a restaurant that had closed.

“We bought the bar in pieces, and the contractor re-varnished it,” Ryan Grady said.

The Gradys and Keck wanted to make their new bar different from other bars on the island; so they stocked it with craft beer.

“There are 16 craft beers on tap and 50 more in bottles,”Ryan Grady said.

In March 2015, Keck and the Gradys celebrated Basil’s 15th year with a birthday party. They had two bands, a cornhole tournament, face painting, video games.

And “we gave away pizza,” Amanda Grady said.

In the summer of 2015, they put in a 14- by 20-foot wooden deck that can hold 50 people. It took months to get county approvals, but it was built in about three days, Ryan Grady said.

“Sometimes customers would ask what we were doing. So I’d give them a quick tour. They liked to watch us grow,” Ryan Grady said.

When Basil’s opened, it had five or six employees. Now it has 47 full- and part-time workers, Ryan Grady said.

In addition to the deck, Basil’s has undergone other major renovations in the past three years.

“We’ve redone the kitchen, We put in a new pizza oven. We converted our kitchen from electric to gas,” Ryan Grady said. “We repainted the exterior. It was plain brown. Now it’s green … And we put in a new roof. (Also) we redid the lobby to accommodate a new computer system. We switched from an old-fashioned cash register to a POS system — point of sale system — that every restaurant has.”

As Basil’s has grown, Keck and the Gradys have worked hard to make it happen. But they have also enjoyed themselves along the way.

“It’s fun. The kids come in high chairs, and now some of them are in college,” Amanda Grady said.

In fact, Ryan Grady said, some of those college students work for Basil’s in the summer or on spring and fall break.

Basil’s is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

“We’re busy on Sundays, Mondays too,” Ryan Grady said. “I’m always disappointed when I pull up to a restaurant and see, ‘Oh, they’re closed.’ If we close, where would people eat?”

More Info

Breakout Box: 

Basil’s Pizza & Deli

216 Johnny Mercer Blvd.

Savannah, GA 31410

Phone: 912-897-6400

Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.

Online: www.basilsonline.com, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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