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Jun 26, 2024

Top Dawg Tavern’s

Barry Kaufman

Photography By

New Pie in the Sky Idea

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If you’re not going to be the first to the party, you’d better make the biggest entrance. 

Top Dawg Tavern proved that when it opened in Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina three years ago, becoming the latest addition to the growing family of restaurants. 

The new pizza place boasts plenty of seating inside and out, with a bar overlooking the marina. 

Launching in Athens – home of the University of Georgia and the inspiration for the restaurant’s name – this brainchild of Renee and Brett Summers proved an immediate success for its family-friendly sports atmosphere, serving a large selection of classic American fare and full-service bar with an unabashed dedication to fun.

When the Summerses opened their first Hilton Head Island location, on a picturesque stretch of Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina looking out over the boats and the pavilion where Shannon Tanner entertains families during the summer, the success was more than immediate. For weeks before they opened the restaurant itself, they were able to open the outside bar and quickly amass a following. 

Genevieve, Brett & Renee Summers in front of their new restaurant in Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina, Top Dawg Pizzeria. 

And then they opened for full food service, giving families visiting Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina the ideal spot to bring the whole crew out with the assurance they’d find something to love. They had struck gold in Athens, but Hilton Head Island quickly proved to be the motherlode.

Parents appreciated the wallet-friendly price point and the outstanding food. Kids fell in love with the Lil Dawg House, a dedicated kids’ area with interactive games – an idea their then 7-year-old daughter, Genevieve, came up with. The space was carved out by the Summerses from a spot where the previous tenant had installed a pizza oven. (Let’s be honest: Parents fell in love with it too, as it gave kids something to do when they inevitably wolfed down their meal within four minutes of being served.)

The Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina location offered a unique opportunity to try something new.

An Italian Sub with a side of pepperoni pizza and a brew or two from Top Dawg Pizzeria at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina. 

“We’ve expanded into the spot next door, so now we have a huge outdoor bar and more indoor seating,” Renee said of their doubled capacity. “We just love being in Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina, and when that spot became available, we started asking ourselves, ‘what is something that people were saying they’d like?’”

The answer had been staring them in the face when they moved in – even though they got rid of the answer to put in the kids’ area. 

“It’s ironic that we took one pizza oven out, just to put another one in,” Renee said with a laugh.

Adding pizza to the menu was a no-brainer. Not only was it one of the few items not represented by the array of restaurants across the harbour, but it gave the Summerses a chance to add to the already proven Top Dawg Tavern formula. 

“We’re going into a whole new arena. Brett has been in food and beverage since he was 14, from bussing tables to management, but never worked in pizza,” Renee said. “But he always said there’s never a bad day for pizza.”

But creating something that could live up to Top Dawg Tavern’s standards – crafted with quality ingredients, but still approachable and wallet-friendly – required some homework. 

“There was a lot of testing, just playing around with how long the dough needed to proof, the timing of it, the temperature of it … we were down there just focused on getting it right,” Renee said. Their patience paid off, resulting in a light and fluffy crust. And on top? Like everything else on the menu, nothing but the best. “Most of our ingredients come from an Italian company, because it was important to us that everything was quality,” she said.

Their 12- and 18-inch pies have quickly justified all of that hard work, delighting diners and bringing an entirely new dynamic to the restaurant. You want to talk about respecting your wallet? How about a $9 lunch special offering a side Caesar or house salad and a slice of either cheese or pepperoni? “And the slice is off of an 18-inch pizza, so it’s huge,” added Renee.

If you’re hungry to try the hottest new pie on the island, you don’t even technically need to stop in. Like any good pizza, it’s available for delivery via DoorDash or Uber Eats, or you can just stop right by their new tent during HarbourFest.

“While people are out there enjoying the Shannon Tanner show, we’ll be in the tent selling slices to go as well as entire hot-and-ready pies, along with soda, water, beer, and wine,” Renee said. “It takes the stress out of getting dinner ready after the show, and it’s also great if you’re just there for the show and you’re hungry.”

And even if you’re not hungry, nothing will get you hungry like the alluring aroma of pizza wafting with the breeze. 

“We’ve really enjoyed it so far. We wanted to build a true pizzeria, and our focus is on the pizza there,” Renee said. “We’re excited to have people come in and taste the pizza. And who knows, maybe we’ll start putting it at other locations.”

To those other five locations, all we can say is “you’re welcome.” We weren’t the first to the Top Dawg Tavern & Pizzeria party, but thanks to us, the rest of you might soon get to enjoy the hottest new pizza on Hilton Head.  

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