On July 4th, Harbor Docks will officially reach 40 years in business. What started as one little cottage and six picnic tables has become an iconic Destin landmark for food, family, events and more.

Harbor Docks was founded in 1979 by Charles Morgan, still five years before Destin would become an incorporated municipality. Throughout the years, the cottage expanded significantly, with the addition of two buildings and the seafood market. The restaurant remains in the original location, right on the Destin harbor. The walls are lined with unique treasures - photos, stories, awards, prize fish and other precious relics that have taken place over the past 40 years. 

“I didn’t even know what I was doing then,” said Charles Morgan, noting longevity wasn’t even in his thoughts. “It was one foot in front of the other … and one day at a time.” 

His initial goal was to “stay alive and stay in business.” 

And for four decades they have done more than just stay alive.

“We are in a business where it’s rare to be open as long as we have,” Charles said. “We’ve made lots and lots of mistakes – but we’ve also done some things right." 

“There is no other explanation for doing anything for 40 years than we have been successful in a lot of the things we try to do,” he added. 

A family-owned business, Harbor Docks is centered not only around fresh, local seafood, but also the loyal staff that has given a part of their lives towards making the restaurant what it is today. Harbor Docks has five employees that have been a part of the team for over thirty years, three employees that have over 20 years tenure and three with over ten years. The staff members are, and always will be a part of the restaurant’s story. 

“It’s been my pleasure” working with the various people at Harbor Docks over the years, Charles said. “That’s the greatest pleasure that I’ve had … and has come with that business is getting to know so many wonderful people.” 

Harbor Docks has built a tradition of bringing the community together through more than just the dinner table. They have hosted their annual auction and golf tournament for over 30 years to help raise funds for their annual Take a Kid Fishing Day, which has allowed over 7,000 local children to experience a day on a charter fishing boat, learning about a very important historic and economic aspect of Destin. Each year for Thanksgiving, the team comes together to cook a Thanksgiving feast, open to the public for no charge. Many community members donate to support local charities that are dear to the Harbor Docks’ team, like Destin Harvest and Habitat for Humanity.

“We’ve had too many world-class musicians for me to even name,” Charles said. “We’ve brought more music to Destin than anyone else – on a national level.” 

Harbor Docks has also been host to President Clinton other people running for state and national offices for the past 40 years on the Democratic ticket. 

However, the events that are near and dear to Morgan’s heart can be found right here at home. 

“The most important people that I think we’ve hosted have been on the two days a year — one when we take kids fishing and the one where we feed people at Thanksgiving. I’ve gotten more pleasure out of those days than celebrities or anybody else,” Charles said. 

In 2018, Charles Morgan officially passed the reigns of the restaurant to his oldest son, Eddie, who plans to carry on the family tradition. Eddie had been fully managing the restaurant for several years, but the father/son team made it official when Charles sold the restaurant to Eddie last year. 

“I grew up in the restaurant and it truly feels like home to me. So, I’m honored to continue the tradition that my father started,” Eddie said. “Destin has changed a lot over the years and will continue to. But Harbor Docks will still be here in the heart of Destin – to many people, it is the heart of Destin.” 

The community is invited to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Harbor Docks with a special celebration on the restaurant’s actual birthday - July 4th. Guests will party like it’s 1979, as the restaurant will bring back several original menu items and sell Budweiser at the original price of $1. Live music kicks off at the dock bar at 4 p.m. featuring Austin Jennings, followed by Cadillac Willy and a fireworks display pops off at 9 p.m. This celebration is free to attend and friendly for all ages. 

Harbor Docks also plans to announce another anniversary event that will take place in the fall. For more information, go to www.harbordocks.com or find Harbor Docks on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

Log reporter Tina Harbuck contributed to this article.