Marie Lewis

Feisty & Faithful

September 2023 IssueMarieLewis0923

by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography (right) by Cassidy Dunn Photography

Marie and her husband Tom have been in the restaurant business for the past 40 years. They started their first Alvin Ord’s location in downtown Beaufort on West Street. Their friend, Bruce Whitney dressed in a monk’s outfit sewn by Marie’s mom and passed out sandwich samples up and down Bay Street. This unusual opening must have worked! They’ve been blessed ever since.

The original Alvin Ord’s began in Texas, and actually the man who started the sandwiches, Alvin Ord Johnson, left in 1971 to become a monk. Hence the many bald-headed friars and monk statues and pictures in the business.

Their location on Ribaut Road in Port Royal is a bustling place, with locals and tourists queueing up inside six days a week for the wonderful sandwiches made with fresh baked bread. Marie is definitely in charge, taking customers’ orders and running the cash register at the counter. She keeps up a friendly, often teasing banter with the customers, and she will quickly correct young Marines who use inappropriate language within earshot. “There’s families in here, watch your language!” she barks.

Alvin Ord’s is known in the area for providing food for people in crisis, homeless and hungry. Tom and Marie are devout Christians, and never turn anyone away. They have sent sandwiches to homesick Marines in Iraq, and regularly contribute to school and civic causes, and the plaques of appreciation, as well as children’s homemade notes, proudly line the shop’s walls.

Marie’s parents came to Beaufort in the early ‘50s and set up a veterinary practice. Two babies soon followed, Marie and her brother Davey. Her father was one of only two veterinarians in the area and her mom managed his busy practice.

Tom and Marie were high school sweethearts at Beaufort High School, back when the football team was called the Tidal Wave. She adamantly states that “Alvin Ord’s has always had only one boss, and it is Tom Lewis!” They recently celebrated 50 years of marriage, and have one son—Lyn. Speaking of the number 50, exactly 50 years after Marie’s dad’s graduation from University of Georgia Veterinary Medical School, the whole family attended Lyn’s graduation—and both graduates were honored! Dr. Lyn Lewis is in veterinary practice in North Georgia and now has two children of his own.

After Marie’s dad passed away, her mother was always included in her and her brother’s families. She went to all the church activities with them and was well-loved and watched over by her family until her death. “It’s just what we do,” Marie explained.

Marie is a strong Southern lady, having survived what she characterizes as a “journey” and a “bump in the road” in 2021. A very active lady who walks every day, enjoys the local dog park with her latest puppy, and an avid horsewoman for years, Marie suddenly had excruciating back pain. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which is cancer in the plasma that attacks the bones. She spent a month at the Medical University of South Carolina undergoing bone marrow transplants and chemo treatments.

While she was gone from the sandwich shop, the customers were not happy about her absence. The sandwiches tasted just as good, but where was feisty Marie? It was not the same without her. Finally, her son posted on Facebook not to ask for money or sympathy, but just to explain. Hundreds of comments followed his post about his Mom, and a love flood of phone calls and cards were sent to the family.

After about a year of recuperation, Marie returned to work in June 2022! She had lost her medium length hair, but came back sporting a cute pixie, which made her look like a teenager. Customers flocked back to Alvin Ord’s after her son posted she was back to work, going back for their sandwiches, but mostly to see Marie!

Aside from her family of course, the most important part of Marie’s life is her faith in God, and in particular, her love for her church, the Carteret Street Methodist Church. She and Tom have been members all through the years, and Marie, who holds a regular seat in the choir, sings many solos. She explains that the church is “all my life—social, the rock…it’s non-negotiable.” She is there without fail every Sunday and had to finish this interview to make choir practice on time (Wednesdays).

When asked what her future plans include, she laughs, “Work until it’s not fun anymore!” She and Tom recently took a train trip across the country and are planning trips to Ireland and Israel soon. Alvin Ord’s is a great sandwich place, but Marie at the cash register is just the way the world should be. It’s like the old TV show “Cheers”—she knows everybody’s name, and she’s glad you came.


Up Close:

• The atmosphere at Alvin Ord’s has always felt like a family. The “girls” who work in the kitchen and prep area all call Marie, “Ma”. There are employees who have worked there for years: Ronette Grant, 30+ years; Molly Heyward, 30 years; Cassandra Drew, 20+ years; Lisa Oliver, 16 years; and Eriko Ruelas, 10 years are just some of their loyal workers.

• Mary Townsend is the baker extraordinaire, and for 10+ years, she arrives very early each day to make the French and Whole Wheat individual loaves in small, medium, and large sizes—around 400 loaves in total per day, and more if catering an event.

• Marie’s advice to burgeoning entrepreneurs: “If you have a dream, don’t let anybody say you can’t do it. Give it a try.” She recalled in the beginning, and for many years, she and Tom were the ones getting up at 3 a.m. to bake the bread loaves. They were also the ones turning out the lights and locking the doors at the end of the day.

• If you go, try the Salvation Sandwich on wheat bread—the true original. Cheddar, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses toasted into a fresh bun. Stuffed with ham, salami, and spiced luncheon meat. Dressed in lettuce, tomato, onions, and mustard –-a whole unforgettable meal! Open Monday-Friday 10:30-8, Saturday 10:30-6.