The Frisky Dolphin is closing its doors this weekend after seven years in business, owner Kevin Hausfeld announced in a social media statement on Wednesday evening.
Though the post came to a shock to its loyal customers, who have left nearly 400 comments on the Facebook post sharing their favorite memories at the beach bar and grill, and well wishes to Hausfeld and his staff. He said their landlord gave only two weeks’ notice that they were being evicted following a summer’s worth of failed negotiations.
Now, “Farewell Frisky” is splashed across on the restaurant’s letter board.
The landlord did not return the News Journal’s calls requesting comment Thursday.
Hausfeld and co-owner Michael “Mike” Hall were not only forced to come to terms with the news themselves, but then break the news to their staff, which was even more heartbreaking.
“The employees losing their jobs, it’s really the hardest thing to really swallow. Michael and I will survive. But these people are saying, ‘How am I going to pay rent? How am I going to do this?’ We don’t have an answer for that. I hate watching my employees cry,” Hausfeld said.
Before Hausfeld locked down the location seven years ago, he had been archiving recipes for decades as he worked his way through the service industry with dreams of opening his own restaurant one day. A dream that started when he was washing dishes as a 9-year-old helping out at his father’s restaurant.
“When I went off to school and came back, it was always kind of a dream to open a little beach bar and restaurant. You know, nothing too big, nothing too fancy. Just something that all the locals go to,” he said.
His dad also served as the inspiration for some of the menu items that are now his best-sellers.
“The gumbo recipe is a recipe my dad got back in the ‘80s … he got the recipe from an old tugboat captain from New Orleans, and I’ve had that for 30 years. If I ever got to open a place, gumbo was going to be a staple,” Hausfeld said. (Now) I would say that’s the No. 1 thing that people love, the gumbo. It was award-winning, we won wherever we went.”
He also came up with a few recipes of his own that matched the restaurant’s coastal Creole flare.
Frisky Dolphin among the best for view:Best waterfront restaurants in Pensacola area: 21 spots you need to visit
“That’s where the red beans and rice and the shrimp Creole came in. Those are really good recipes that I cooked and saved for the restaurant,” he said.
The items had a piece of his heart in them, like the best-selling redfish baskets nostalgic to the fish he grew up catching as a kid off of Pensacola Beach’s shore.
Hausfeld said all the years of hard work establishing the restaurant and getting through the lean winters had been starting to pay off. They had survived hurdle after hurdle through hurricanes, tropical storms and the Skanska bridge shutdown. Last year, the partners even poured about $150,000 dollars out of their own pockets as the rented building was falling apart, he said. Even so, they always came out on the other side.
“At one point in time, we had our bartender fall into the floor,” Hausfeld said. “Commercial leases are different than residential leases in the fact that generally, the tenant has to do the maintenance on the building.”
Only five days after making the renovations, he said the partners received their first letter from the landlord’s attorney saying they needed to vacate the premises. They were able to negotiate another year, but then got another letter this month saying it was time for them to get out, according to Hausfeld.
However, Hausfeld said the two are looking for a new location on the beach that fits their price range. But even if it doesn’t pan out, he is walking away without regrets.
“The beach people went there, and that’s what we set out to create. A local little kind of watering hole restaurant that serves good seafood and had a great view of the water,” he said. “The customers became like family. I was in there yesterday, and as soon as they posted that (the restaurant was closing), they (customers) all come out of the woodwork and they’re all coming up there and apologizing and saying they hate it. We all know them all by name.
“It’s upsetting,” he continued. “The restaurant business is hard. It’s hard to build a restaurant and it’s hard to build it ground up when you don’t have a lot of money. My partner, Mike Hall and I, we put our life savings in there. So, it just hits real hard.”
Hausfeld has encouraged customers to come out and “get frisky” one last time this weekend. Starting Thursday, all menu items will be half price until sold out, running until Sunday.
More updates and information can be found on the Frisky Dolphin Sunset Oyster Bar & Grill Facebook page.
For any tips on restaurant news in Escambia or Santa Rosa County, send an email to Brittany Misencik at BMisencik@pnj.com.