DARE COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — You’ve probably seen the famous Brew Thru T-shirts, or driven through one of their convenient locations on the Outer Banks, but a big piece of the store’s history is gone.

The founder of Brew Thru, Dana Lawrentz, who died after battling Parkinson’s earlier this month.

Lawrentz opened the first Brew Thru location with his business partner in 1977 in Nags Head.

They now have five locations.

Brew Thrus are known for being a one-stop shop for beverages, cups and for the famous Outer Banks souvenir, the Brew Thru shirt.

Dana and his wife Becky were originally from Akron, Ohio, and have three daughters.

“He and a friend were sitting there talking about how they wanted to get out of the cold weather and that friend happened to spend his honeymoon on the Outer Banks that summer,” said Lawrentz’s son-in-law, Philip Foreman.

Dana had never been to the Outer Banks before, but that didn’t stop them from coming up with an idea.

“So then they started over a few beers trying to figure out what kind of business they wanted to do and said ‘well, let’s make sure we do something we like,’” Foreman said. “Well, we sure like drinking beer so maybe we’ll open a beer store and they were bouncing around what kind of beer store it would be and said well, let’s do a drive through.”

The first year didn’t go so well, so his friend backed out of the business venture — but Dana and his wife Becky stuck with it.

“Dana said they used to eat Spam, sardines, ramen noodles, budgeted gas,” Foreman said. “It had to work, if it didn’t, we were going to go bankrupt.”

They say things didn’t start taking off until a business owner from Norfolk talked them into selling T-shirts.

“Since then, we’ve sold over 6 million T-shirts. We sell over 150,000 T-shirts every summer,” Foreman said.

Now the shirts are a collector’s item each year — and the design always features “Dana” at the center of it all.

“It’s a cartoon version, but we always called him ‘Big D,’” Foreman said.

Phillip started dating Dana’s oldest daughter, Brandy, in 9th grade and they’ve been together ever since.

“He was always so proud to see lines of cars coming out of his business,” said Lawrentz’s son-in-law. “I am thankful he trusted me with his daughter, but he entrusted me with his baby Brew Thru. That says a lot about him.” 

They took over Brew Thru in the early 2000s and say Dana’s kind personality is what grew his business.

“He knew how to take care of people and if anything went wrong, he would 100% make it right,” said Lawrentz. “He was like a second dad to me. I learned a lot from him.”

And while Dana is no longer here, Phillip says he doesn’t feel like anything is missing because Dana’s love will always be felt every time you enter a Brew Thru.

“While it’s really hard, we just remember the good times, and I believe they’re with us,” Lawrentz said. “His legacy is going to go on as long as I’m around.”

Brew Thru will release its 2023 shirt design in November, which will, of course, feature “Big D” at the center of it all.