By Emily Klinga and Allen Bizzell
Through its twists and turns, 2020 was a year of reflection, opportunities for growth, and new developments to come in 2021. For the Bizzell family, this year is an exciting celebration of 30 years in the family business that is coming back even better than before.
Established in the 1950s, what is now known as the Holiday Harbor Marina on Perdido Key was one of the first indoor boat storage facilities in the state of Florida. Looking nothing like the modern, multi-level storage that stands today; the facility was a giant metal barn-like building with almost no development of the surrounding property.
The Marina then lived history of being a family-owned business. In 1970, after devoting 21 years to the academic world, biology professor and college president, Dr. William K Clark and his wife Barbara made a drastic decision to leave the hustle and bustle routine behind for that of a rural business on the coast. Living off his fishing and a modest income from the marina, the Clarks grew their young family to love the coast and work at the marina, learning the ins and outs of the business of marina parts, repairs, and accessories.
Fast-forward to the fall of 1991, the Bizzell family purchased the marina from the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation after the savings and loans collapse of the late 1980s. Upon possession, there were many improvements to be made- with just a big metal building on the rundown property. Over the course of several years, gradual improvements were made including expanded storage capacity and new docks around the perimeter of the boat basin.
The year 2000 brought the vision of the Sunset Grille. They built and opened the restaurant with just 3 staff members including a cook, a cook’s assistant, and Allen Bizzell. At the time, one would order at the counter and they would call your name when the order was ready. As the small restaurant gained popularity throughout Perdido Key, improvements and expansions came over time. The restaurant added three expansions to the deck, patio, and store area.
After a harmful Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the marina and restaurant both had flooding and damage to the docks but luckily no structural damage to the buildings occurred. After dealing with recovery efforts, in early 2005, the family leased out restaurant operations to two separate operators until December 2009. In January 2010, the Bizzell’s took back operations of the Sunset Grille.
Within the last ten years, there have been several improvements to the Grille, including the addition of separate restroom facilities, a covered patio and playground, and the addition of the gift shop and convenience store.
The Holiday Harbor Marina and Sunset Grille is a marine enthusiast’s staple amenity in Perdido Key. The full-service marina occupies approximately 5 acres of waterfront property with direct access to the intercoastal waterway. The facility includes wet and dry storage, a boat ramp, two fuel docks, two ship stores for all fishing and snacking needs, and the beloved waterfront restaurant- the Sunset Grille. The facility has also earned two special certifications from the State of Florida as a “Clean and Resilient Marina”.
The Sunset Grille overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway and is accessible by car or boat. Air-conditioned seating is available inside, while outdoor lovers can enjoy the view on their dock-side deck which remains heated on chilly days. The relaxed, family-friendly restaurant features a menu of sandwiches and burgers, fresh seafood entrees, gumbos, specialty items including the all-time favorites Grouper Reuben and Sunset Fish Tacos, and a full bar with cold beer, wine, and specialty cocktails. The Grille is also a dog lover’s paradise, as they are pet-friendly and will even give your furry friend a water dish and treat to enjoy!
Learning to operate under modified conditions due to COVID-19 was just the beginning of concerns for the restaurant industry. As if a global pandemic was not enough of a concern, in September 2020, Hurricane Sally took a visit to the coast and dealt massive damage in Perdido Key. Allen Bizzell reported that damage from Sally was worse than they had experienced during Hurricane Ivan due to the length of time that the storm stood still over the area. The docks on the west side of the property were heavily damaged by wind-driven debris including boats, pieces of other people’s docks, and household debris such as refrigerators and microwaves which basically acted like battering rams on the west side of the buildings. Again, the structures held, but the siding was punctured in some places and there was 4” of water inside the buildings.
After the storm passed, the marina was back to partial operations- selling fuel within a week of the storm and launching boats within two weeks. After assessing the damage and considering the concern of the pandemic, the family decided to keep the restaurant closed for the remainder of the year, during which time they would rebuild and come back better than ever.
The Marina has fully recovered from the effects of Hurricane Sally. The docks have been replaced with state-of-the-art fiberglass material that will be much more resistant to future storm damage, and the Marina store has been reconfigured and completed with fresh paint and flooring. Boats are being launched, fuel is available at the main marina and the store and office are fully operational.
In Spring 2021, visitors to the Sunset Grille can expect to see major changes. The building has been enlarged to include a larger kitchen, new space for the gift shop, and additional outdoor dining space on the water. The freshly designed open-air space will include new uniform flooring and drop-down curtains to better enclose the space for stormy or chilly weather. Owner Allen Bizzell says, “We believe these changes will improve our customers’ experiences for many years to come.”
The Bizzell family have put their life’s work into making the Holiday Harbor Marina and Sunset Grille facility into the amazing, full-service, and family-operated business that stands the test of time. The year 2021 marks 30 years of being operated by the Bizzell family. Current operators, Allen, Steve, and Tom Bizzell are excited to welcome visitors back to a new and improved experience at the Sunset Grille, which has been designated by Trip Advisor in the top 10% of eating establishments worldwide for 2020.