Terry Flores

Rivertown Bistro
Conway, SC
Chef Swap Ingredient:
Fennel pollen
Cuisine Style:
American Fusion with French influence

Terry Flores’s heart is rooted in the tastes of the Grand Strand. He grew up in Conway and discovered his fond love for producing inventive food under the guidance of his friend and mentor, Darren Smith, owner of Rivertown Bistro and Bonfire A Smokin’ Taqueria.


About Terry Flores

Terry Flores has a cathartic, soft voice similar to a midnight love DJ speaking slowly and sweetly into the microphone with a desire to mellow listeners. His voice is quiet. It can lull you into a meditative state, like raindrops hitting windowpanes.

At this moment, he is dressed warmly in a black puffer jacket, black jeans, black shoes, and a black cap. It’s a chilly day in Conway, and Flores came ready. He has settled down at a high-top table at the Crafty Rooster, which is down the street from Rivertown Bistro, at 1111 3rd Ave., where he is a chef.

“My career started at Rivertown Bistro and is where it’s evolved from,’’ Flores said. “That’s the core of everything.”

He is sitting straight in his chair. No slouching whatsoever. His hands are clasped together, as in prayer. His neatly trimmed mustache hugs the top tier of his lip. He looks more like an attentive student than an impressive chef with kung-fu capabilities to dazzle diners with his dishes.

Flores is a sensation. His persona is hushed and tranquil, but his talent is singular and worthy of recognition.

“Terry has worked with me for 20 years,’’ said Darren Smith, owner of Rivertown Bistro. “He is a true chef. He has a very strong work ethic. He has a good palate and is constantly striving to do better.”

His Mentor & Meek Moves

Snow cones gave Flores his first taste of what life could be like in the hospitality industry. He was 14. At the time, he worked at a sub and pizza restaurant when he began suspecting his place was in the culinary universe.

Rivertown Bistro was his next stop and final destination. One of the restaurants folks frequent for quintessential Southern cuisine and fusion fare, the restaurant is where Flores, under Smith’s tutelage, began building his career as a force in the field. He was 16.

His mom, a Rivertown Bistro regular, heard about a spot open and alerted her son.

“She was the one who introduced me, and I came and filled out an application on the summer of my senior year at Conway High School,’’ said Flores.

He became a part of a culture where people started learning the basics before continuing their comestible climb up the ranks.

“I was the young teenage dishwasher before I began salads,’’ Flores said. “One of my first responsibilities was making the desserts as well. I became the pastry chef early on as I moved on to other places in the restaurant. So, I’ve also done all the other positions throughout the years there.”

Customers who frequented Rivertown Bistro probably saw Flores as he blossomed, taking on whatever roles necessary to be an asset. He served the front of the house. He worked lunch and dinner.

“When Darren and I had a fire in 2008, I was with Darren through that entire year of closure,’’ Flores said. “Our sous chef, Billy Green, passed away that year. I became Darren’s right hand as we reopened and rebuilt the restaurant – and now it is a very cool experience to see it come from what we were before to working through the redesign -- even the reconstruction and helping with the demolition. We got to see the complete restoration of everything and rebuilt the restaurant hand in hand with Darren there.”

Some employees stayed. Some decided to move on to other eateries in Conway that welcomed them aboard.

Flores stuck it out. He saw what was ahead. Through a devastating loss, better was coming. His head and heart knew Rivertown Bistro was only going to elevate. The visions of culinary design aesthetics excited him. He knew Smith and his wife, Cindy, were blazing fresh frontiers.

“The long-lasting thing about my career with them has been I’ve always been able to see the growth of the future,’’ Flores said. “We had the opportunity to add the second restaurant, Bonfire (A Smokin’ Taqueria).”

The most rewarding aspects of his job are the liberties to be innovative without boundaries and Darren Smith’s continued guidance.

“Darren has been a great teacher and mentor for many years,’’ he said. “Now that we have both places, it’s been fun to come up with new ideas and have the freedom of being creative in the kitchen. We’re always looking to not only stay on trend but to create. It’s very comfortable for me to get in the kitchen there and just be free.”

In those early years, Flores became “high-end, culinary-minded,'' contrasting how he experienced food as a child.

“There is an artistic approach to food that can be more than eating to survive with a meal to get you through the day,’’ Flores said. “There are levels of experience that people have with food that I never saw before. I grew up eating pretty commercialized food at home. My mom made hamburgers, tacos, home meals, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and other regular kid food during the 90s.’’

Rolling at Rivertown

Flores talks slowly. He ponders every word before he allows it to manifest from his mouth. An astute listener, Flores heeds everything and afterward delivers thoughtful responses. He is methodical and focused. Flores is consistent and careful. He is a man serious about his food fervor.

Most likely, when most people are sleeping, Flores is working. The nearly 24/7 demands of being an integral part of successful restaurants keep lazy people far away. Flores flows best where flavors are fun and fantastic, and energy is high. The open kitchen at Rivertown Bistro allows patrons willing to look to catch some of Flores’s fire. He is graceful, quick, and precise.

His wheels keep turning. Even when Flores is off, he is on. A creative brain stays working intentionally or unintentionally. It is a part of this life – and Flores is OK with it.

Untold hours are required to ensure patrons get the fine dining experience they seek.

Baking cheesecakes and braising ducks and short ribs all hours of the night are among the tasks being done at different intervals of time by Flores and other Rivertown Bistro staff.

“He has grown our dessert program,’’ Darren Smith said. “And in my absence, he makes sure the restaurant runs seamlessly. He is also a good teacher, taking the younger cooks under his wing to hone their craft.”

Will Gobbel, kitchen manager at Rivertown Bistro has high praises for Flores.

“Terry is very laid back, even-keeled, and never allows the pressure to overwhelm him,’’ Gobbel said. “This allows him to be creative without fear of failure. He is also a very talented pastry chef whose desserts are second to none.”

While he is known and celebrated as a superior pastry chef, Flores digs into making soups. Brunswick stew, French onion, Italian wedding, Southwest chicken, and coconut-curry-based soups are among his best-loved.

In addition to his love of food, foremost in his heart is his love for his daughter, Quinn, whom he affectionately calls “The Mighty Quinn,’’ an ode to the strong character portrayed by Denzel Washington in the movie of the same name and an ode to one of his favorite bands, The Grateful Dead, which penned the song “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo).”

He enjoys soul, hip-hop, electronic, instrumental, and Motown music. Just as he likes food fusion, he gets pleasure from his diverse music tastes.

The fusion of food and music comes naturally to him.

“I like to lean into my Libra,’’ he said.

A former music company owner who produced events and engineered sound for bands, he seeks ways to explore, expand, and invent to keep widening his food territory with music as his muse.

He studied music for a bit at Coastal Carolina University and meshed his love of both onto the table.

“Taking the fusion of different cultures and beat making – you are doing what they call sampling a lot – you are remixing,’’ he said. “I do that with food as well. I chop a little idea from this concept that I learned over the years and incorporate it into something new.’’

Gobbel said desserts are Flores’s forte, but he also knows how to deliver meals sewn together with tastes from varied cultures.

“He can surprise you with an Asian-inspired miso soup or a southwest-style chimichanga,’’ Gobbel said.

Regardless of what Flores decides to put down on a plate, he will do so for the unforeseeable future at the place that gives him a legitimate and fulfilling space on this gourmet globe.

“I love being a chef at Rivertown Bistro,’’ Flores said. “This is something I love to do. I’ve been there for so long I don’t know if I would honestly survive in the world elsewhere.”

By Johanna Wilson Jones

“There is an artistic approach to food that can be more than eating to survive with a meal to get you through the day. There are levels of experience that people have with food that I never saw before. I grew up eating pretty commercialized food at home. My mom made hamburgers, tacos, home meals, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and other regular kid food during the 90s.’’

Terry Flores
linkcross linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram