Casey Blake

Drunken Jack’s Restaurant & Lounge
Pawleys Island, SC
Chef Swap Ingredient:
Blackening Season
Cuisine Style:

Casey Blake is a chef prodigy. He was the man in charge at 16 and has been at Drunken Jack’s for more than 30 years. He is considered one of the top chefs along the Grand Strand, and one of the chefs to beat in local competitions.


About Casey Blake

The biblical king Josiah, from the tribe of Judah, ascended to the throne in Jerusalem at age 8.

Casey Blake did not debut that early; however, he is royalty in these parts and rose to prominence when he was just 16 and a dad to two children. Yet, he resolved to focus on how he finished his race, not how he began.

“I started there as a dishwasher, and I was bussing tables as well,’’ said Blake of the restaurant that closed permanently in 2018. "At that moment, he was taking a rare break from his bustling schedule. As the executive chef and kitchen manager at Drunken Jack’s Restaurant & Lounge, his duties do not stop. Something always awaits him.

His advanced entry into a world punctuated by talent, taxing job responsibilities, high stress, geniuses, messiness, endless customers, and occasional chaos was a gift from a friend.

“A buddy of mine was working down here at the same place, and he was a little older than me,’’ Blake said. “He was like, ‘Man, they are looking for somebody to wash dishes.’ I said, Shoot, I’ll wash dishes or whatever.’’

He lied about his age – he was supposed to be at least 15 – and got the gig.

There were mishaps on the way: some minor, some major, and some innocent.

His lack of knowledge concerning tips fell into the last category.

“To be truthful, I saw the money on the tables,’’ Blake said. “I said, ‘Boy, I like this job.’ I was taking the money. I didn’t know any better. I was 13 years old.’’

The suspicious wait staff suspected a thief was on the loose.

“So, I guess they started watching me, they were like, ‘The busboy is taking all of our money,’’’ he said. “They approached me and said I couldn’t take the money, but I didn’t know the tips belonged to the wait staff. I was bussing the tables. So, I thought the money was for me.’’

The incident was embarrassing, but he did not get fired. No such novice mistakes happened when he entered the realm of his kitchen kingdom.

Soon, people outside the walls of Captain Dave’s Dockside would be talking about Blake because he was blowing minds.

The transformation from dishwasher and busboy to a favored, award-winning chef began through his power of observation and pure God-given talent.

“While I was washing dishes, I would always watch the cooks,’’ Blake said. “I asked questions, and they didn’t mind. They told me and taught me about what was going on. After a while. I got on the line and started cooking.”

His cooking time grew when chefs needed to take a break or escape the kitchen for other reasons.

“I started grilling and sautéing,’’ he said. “I was like 14 or 15 at that point. I was good at my job, and I’m not bragging.”

His star shined brighter in a blink– except Blake never dimmed.

The word was out – and the news had been sailing on the Murrells Inlet air for a bit.

There was a young phenom in the area. Impactful people knew his name. They were listening. They were watching this teen prince at Captain Dave’s Dockside.

In the interim, trips to the bar altered his being.

“The chef, towards the latter part of the night, would leave the kitchen and go to the bar to drink,’’ Blake said. “He left me in charge of the kitchen.”

Blake was only 15, but he was already running things. Initially, the deftness and discernment to operate a full-scale kitchen was a good look and heightened his confidence. Yet, by and by, he realized he was used for culinary aptitude without being duly compensated.

“As a kid, I realized my worth,’’ said Blake, who was making about $100 or a little more a week. “I was like, ‘I’m doing all of this work right here, and he gets to go out to the bar and drink at night – and I have to close down the whole kitchen.’’

Fed up, he quit one day during his shift, leaving Captain Dave’s Dockside and letting them know he had left a medium-rare steak on the grill. He clocked out and never looked back.

The Blastoff of Blake

If you visit Drunken Jack’s, you will see Blake hustling. He rarely stays in the same spot for an extended period. Unlike the steady flow of customers, he rarely gets a chance to sit down and view the picturesque view of The Inlet.

Look over here, and you will see him taste-testing products from food purveyors trying to convince him to use them on the menu or feature at an event of Inlet Affairs, Drunken Jack’s catering component.

Look over there, and he is back in the kitchen – cooking, supervising, checking, and orchestrating numerous tasks essential to delivering American cuisine. Hearty salads give center stage to juicy grilled scallops and fried oysters to made-in-house crab cakes and sweet endings like the hushpuppy sundae served with vanilla ice cream, strawberry topping, and whipped cream.

Just sit back and look, if you are ever able, to witness his work and you’ll understand why David McMillan, one of Drunken Jack’s owners, thinks so highly of his prized chef.

He was the one who made it known to one of Blake’s classmates that he had a job waiting for him – that was 30 years ago.

Blake did not know McMillan, but he delayed their meeting until he could drive around a $35,000 sports car for a week because work and school kept him from enjoying himself.

After the hiatus, he met McMillan.

“From the time Casey walked in the door, it was obvious that he was cut from a different cloth than your normal person coming through here looking for a job,’’ McMillan said as Blake stood adjacent from him and sampled chicken tenders from a food provider. “We were aware of his work ethic because he worked next door. You could look at him and tell it was talent being wasted.”

McMillan said his dedication, intelligence, and desire to learn made him unique.

“Casey's just an outstanding young man,’’ McMillan said. “In this business, at least on our end, it starts with good people.’’

In those early years, McMillan and Blake worked side-by-side in the kitchen.

“He never had to try very hard to be a leader,’’ he said. “For Casey, it came naturally. He quickly became a role model for other cooks and staff. He came in as a cook and learned how to be in a manager position quickly. When you have that ability to lead naturally, it comes through in everything you do.”

For 30 years, Blake has been at the helm at Drunken Jack’s. Innumerable people know him because he is a Horry County native born in Conway, raised in Pawleys Island, and now lives in Myrtle Beach. Most folks, however, only know him because of his magnanimous capability to make wondrous American cuisine. They have never met the man, but they adore what he does to food.

“Have never met Casey, but if I ever do, I will let him know how much we have enjoyed his dishes over the many years we have eaten at Drunken (Jack’s),’’ wrote Brenda Clark, a North Myrtle Beach resident, on Facebook. “Never disappoints…”

The Man and His Might

His community was proud of Blake. In their eyes, he was a hero. It was unusual, back in 1994, to see a person born with his hue in leadership at a Grand Strand flagship restaurant.

“That made me feel good,’’ Blake said. “People knew me or knew of me always made me feel like a celebrity or something because I stood out. I’m the Martin Luther King or Malcolm X of my community because the minority had never seen that – a black person in charge of a kitchen. I might have paved the way for some people. I don’t know, but I hope I did.”

Blake said the confidence McMillan placed in him and the first-class parenting his late dad, a beloved teacher, gave him kept him focused, even when he strayed off the road attempting to be a drug dealer. He was 19 or 20, stayed overnight in jail, and realized being a knucklehead was the wrong route to take.

“My dad was always on point with all of his kids,’’ Blake said. “He was a single parent raising all three of us kids – my two sisters and myself. He had a nightclub. He did everything he could to keep us going as kids. I wish he was still here today just to see how far I came.”

The thought of Ervin Blake Sr., a former teacher, single parent, and nightclub owner, not being seen makes Blake cry. His dad was a great man, and he wanted him to see that his son turned wrong, wide turns into narrow paths.

"He is helpful, giving, knowledgeable, understanding, loving, and generous,'' said Timoka Blake, his wife of 24 years who shares four children and one grandchild with one of Pawleys Island’s favorite chefs. "He is stern with the kids, their values, and priorities. As a chef, he is extremely talented with his cooking abilities and presentations.”

By Johanna Wilson Jones

“People knew me or knew of me always made me feel like a celebrity or something because I stood out. I’m the Martin Luther King or Malcolm X of my community because the minority had never seen that – a black person in charge of a kitchen. I might have paved the way for some people. I don’t know, but I hope I did.”

Casey Blake
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