If you like AJ's in Destin, soon you won't have to leave 30A for the experience.
AJ's owner Alan Laird, who also owns Pandora's restaurant in Grayton Beach, decided that restaurant needed a facelift. Pandora's will close at the end of the month for an inside and outside remodel. When the restaurant reopens next year, the business will reopen as AJ's at Grayton Beach.
"Pandora's is a little outdated and it is time for a change," said Brandon Montalto, the manager at Pandora's who will continue to run AJ's on 30A.
Laird said he was on 30A before it was cool and originally opened a restaurant at the Pandora location in 1991 after opening his Destin location in 1984.
"There was nothing out here but yuppies back then," he said. "No kids then, but things have changed, and now that I'm older I see their side. Twenty-five years later, there are kids everywhere. I've never seen so many bikes in my life."
Laird said after owning and operating one store for 31 years and losing his partner in April, he felt it's time to open outlets.
The changes will include a bit of remodeling, such as taking up carpeting to show more wood, closing in the outside bar and side porch, adding a sound wall, and bringing the parking lot and driveways up to code.
"What I am looking to do on 30A is environmentally friendly," said Laird. "I'm shrinking the size of the operation, eliminating a driveway, adding 17 parking spaces, extra bathrooms and shrinking the square footage from 8,900 to 8,600. I also increased 25 feet of buffer to 30 feet, and no more outside bar.
"It's all coming inside," Laird added. "We will enclose the back, put in a sound wall and water fall. We want to be compatible and good neighbors. We will have the same feel but without the sound. I've brought it as close and made it as compliant as I can. I'm too old to fight with neighbors. We are going to be customer and community friendly."
There will also be a few changes to the dining options with the addition of a sushi and oyster bar. Otherwise, the menu will remain family friendly with family value items, said Laird.
"There will be seafood baskets, grouper cooked over an oak pit, steaks, boiled crawfish, seafood bakes and the prime-rib special on Wednesdays," he said. "Nothing a la carte."
Laird plans to bring in a more beachy/nautical décor to reflect the location.
The restaurant/bar will be open seven days a week with music each day. AJ's will also cater and do beach bonfires.
"We have a local legacy in Grayton Beach," said Laird. "We are part of the community. We will continue to be part of the community. We will build a core staff and hit the numbers and greet guests as they come in.
"I now employ 340 people at my restaurants," Laird added. "We have a lineage here of 32 years. We are bringing back a bartender who was here in 1991. I'm glad to be here. We are going to do the same things, just under a new flag," he said.
Plans are to reopen Jan. 5 for dinner.
"It will be a better product," said Laird. "We are excited."