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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

What’s In A Name?

June 29, 2010

DESTIN— The kids are at camp so the wife and I headed to the beach. In another life, this was my playground.

I lived down here during two brief stints of my misspent youth in the 1980s. I worked in restaurants and lived the life of a single guy in a beach town. During the first stint I worked at a restaurant called Big Pop’s BBQ that also served fried chicken and delivered pizza to the condos. During the second stretch, I worked at a restaurant called Harbor Docks.

Of all of the restaurant jobs I held before I opened my own concepts, Harbor Docks was my favorite. I had a blast and made good money. I rented a cheap Snowbird condo on the beach where I rolled out of bed around 10:00 a.m. every morning, walked the beach to June’s Dune’s and ate breakfast, spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon in the sand and surf, showered, pulled a shift at Harbor Docks, showered, went out on the town, slept, wash, rinse, repeat. It was great. I had the stress level of a grapefruit.

It was a different town back then. The “Sleepy Little Fishing Village” moniker had long been replaced, but the condo invasion wasn’t even a decade old. Beach cottages such as The Silver Beach still existed, and all of the old-line seafood joints were open.

Hitting this area as infrequently as I do these days, I am always amazed by the changes that occur in the off-season. Restaurants come and go with the seasons. Old restaurants close and new ones take their place, just to be replaced by another next season. The initial drive into town always brings new discoveries.

While arriving last night we passed a couple of new joints— The Crazy Lobster and the Dancing Iguana. We laughed at the names of the new places and how some people just take an adjective and a noun and put them together to form a restaurant name.

I started developing a humorous take on that theme and was going to write a column about this silly business practice. I even started coming up with my own adjective/noun restaurant names— The Coughing Crab, The Flaming Fish, The Mildewed Minnow— until my wife reminded me that I named my first restaurant The Purple Parrot. Ouch.

One of the most frequent questions I am asked in a media interview or by customers in the restaurant is, “Where did you get the name Purple Parrot?” Actually it has its roots in this area.

After moving back home from my second stint in Destin, I was ready to open, what was then referred to as “The restaurant.” I found a location, began purchasing equipment, hired staff, and started the staff training. As opening day drew closer, there was still no name for the restaurant.

On August 7th, 1987, after attending Jimmy Buffett concert in Biloxi, I was riding home from the show with my original business partner as we discussed possible names. This was in the burgeoning days of the Parrothead movement. As a fluke, I said, “What if we call it the Purple Parrot Café?” We both laughed and agreed that the name would be temporary until we came up with a better one. In the end, we got busy and just went with what we had. It stuck.

Nothing in the Purple Parrot is tropical or Buffett-like, but it is who we are, and – hopefully— whom we will be for many years to come.

In the end, I guess I’ve got Mr. Buffett to thank that I am not the owner of the Mauve Macaw, The Finicky Finch, or The Putrid Pelican.

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