MOORESVILLE – Big Daddy’s faces busy River Highway with a big red sign and race car shells on the roof. But just by walking in the door, customers might feel stray grains of sand between their toes and the start of a sunburn on their necks. 

This is not a coincidence as Tommy Lancaster opened the very first Big Daddy’s in 1963 in Kure Beach, which is south of Wilmington. His grandson, Freddie Lancaster, grew up working at Big Daddy’s and now runs the restaurant in Mooresville.

During the summer months, Tommy and his family would travel to Kure Beach. He noticed there were large crowds of hungry people and hardly any restaurants, so he started a hotdog and hamburger stand.

The movie “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” had recently been released and people started calling Tommy Lancaster "Big Daddy" due to his resemblance to the Burl Ives character. The name stuck, and the hotdog and hamburger stand evolved into Big Daddy's Restaurant.

Tommy Lancaster originally served barbecue but learned quickly that people came to the beach to eat seafood. After changing the menu, the restaurant was a hit. At one time, there were five locations of Big Daddy's across the state: Kure Beach, Goldsboro, Wallace, Charlotte and Lake Norman. The family has sold all but the Mooresville location.

Tommy Lancaster bought the Mooresville Big Daddy’s location sight unseen in 1974. A gentleman came into the Goldsboro location and told him he had the perfect restaurant in the Lake Norman area. Tommy Lancaster bought it and began running it as he had the other restaurants.

Freddie Lancaster eventually came into the business to help run the restaurant. His wife, Susie, and two daughters, Sarah and Nikki, work there, as well. The family clearly has restaurants in their blood. Freddie Lancaster’s brother, Jeffrey, owns Lancaster BBQ, Midway Boathouse and Jeffrey’s restaurants.

The atmosphere at Big Daddy’s is classy and comfortable, the type of place to take the whole family on a special occasion. The space is immaculate and welcoming with a large wrap-around Oyster Bar, which can seat 51 people, two salad bars and lobster tanks.

The menu items are numerous and high quality, such as steamed shrimp, seafood Alfredo, filet mignon, teriyaki chicken and prime rib. Fresh seafood is delivered daily, and they cut their own steaks. No item is cooked prior to being ordered.

Big Daddy’s is an institution that deserves its stellar reputation and established patronage. It combines the traditional beach restaurant with contemporary flourishes such as high-tech computer systems and modern menu options.

Freddie Lancaster smiles at the full restaurant as he waits with his wife by the front door, ready to greet every customer. Big Daddy would be proud.