Sandestin management has confirmed the return of its iconic Elephant Walk restaurant.
The restaurant was built by then-owner Peter Bos and designed by Architect Chick Grant to be elegant and glamorous with a South African feel, much like a scene from the 1954 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor.
"When we built, there were just trees there. We built it with an architectural design to withstand the ages. We created history," said Bos.
Opened in 1985, The Elephant Walk consistently earned a four-star rating and was very popular with the locals when choices in area fine dining were limited.
Elephant Walk stood apart in the fine-dining realm and was popular as a gathering spot where locals could just go to listen to music at the bar.
The iconic establishment closed in 2003 and the resort's former owners reopened it as Finz restaurant with a more family-friendly, casual, beachy look and feel.
As Finz struggled and semi-closed in 2004 and amid rumors of the possibility arising of tearing the structure down for more condos, restaurateurs Tom Rice and Wayne Lewis stepped in to re-establish The Elephant Walk Restaurant on the beach at the resort.
Rice and Lewis are owners of The Marlin Grill at The Village of Baytowne Wharf and have been in the business for 25 years.
“Our goal is to bring back this great restaurant tradition with extraordinary cuisine, fine service and beautiful views it was once known for,” said Rice.
The new ownership team will revive some of the treasured traditions of The Elephant Walk, including bringing back popular menu items such as its signature dish, Grouper Elizabeth, so named in honor of Elizabeth Taylor.
"We worked with Sandestin management to recreate Elephant Walk," said Rice. "The architecture is intriguing and it's a once-in-a-lifetime location."
Rice has lived in the area since the mid 1980s and he was a patron of the original Elephant Walk and always enjoyed it and its beautiful location.
"It's such an anchor and center for the resort. I'm excited about the nostalgia and history there," he said.
However, Rice said he is not going to try to duplicate the original, but take just the nostalgic and intriguing elements and recreate those and some menu items. He is not bringing back the original chef, but instead will bring in the Marlin Grill's Chef Mike McAnulla. And, he said he will not attempt to restore the interior to its original look, but intends to use rich colors as opposed to the beachy look.
Both levels of 8,000-square-feet and 5,000-square-feet of decks will be utilized. There will be a full bar and the popular Governor's Attic bar upstairs will be reopened. The restaurant will be open year around, beginning with dinner in late March and adding lunch in early May.
The main floor and deck will be used for lunch and dinner, and the upper floor will be used for group events.
Mark Hodgdon, general manager of the resort said, “We are pleased to work with Tom Rice and Wayne Lewis because they are trusted business leaders in the community, and we are delighted that The Elephant Walk will once again be part of our Gulf-front experience.”
Amid confirmed reports of the restaurant's return, those who dined at the original shared some of their memories of the old.
Joe Serrato remembers the restaurant being "a very good white tablecloth dining experience. The Grouper Elizabeth was a signature dish. I had friends who were married there and it represented a big step up from what had been the standard 'Old Florida' dining experience and fare. It was a great place to watch the sun go down and have a good meal."
Sandestin resident Bob Johnson also remembers enjoying the sunsets from a window table as a special treat.
Brandey Barton remembers when the band Passage used to play there.
Shannon Horvath remembers the great grouper sandwich, the bushwhackers, as well as the great bands who played.
Nancy Conner celebrated her fifth wedding anniversary there in 1988 and recalls being extremely pregnant at the time.
Wendy Grant Prentice Grantham's favorite memory of the place is that her dad designed it.
Betty Krika says that by far, the Governor's Attic was the place to go for dessert and after-dinner drinks.
Sandestin resident Denise Dobelek said she celebrated all her family's important occasions there and made sure they took their guests there. "The best menu item was the Grouper Elizabeth," she said.
Billie Gaffrey enjoyed going to events held there around the pool with its beautiful view of the Gulf!