Pensacola's Fishing Hole seafood restaurant expands with new Milton location
Since 2012, the Fishing Hole in Pensacola has been a place where folks could "always get a bite."
Now, there are two Fishing Holes to visit for that bite, as the local restaurant officially expanded into Milton on Monday with a new location.
"We have such a big clientele in Pensacola that are from Milton, and we had customers saying things like, 'Hey this building is available or that building is available,'" said owner Tilani Dissanayake on Monday morning, hours before the brand new Milton restaurant opened for its first-ever lunch service. "They've been trying to get us to come here for a very long time."
Dissanayake owns both restaurants alongside business partner Kenneth Jones, whose career as a restauranteur flourished in Italy. Europe is also where Jones, a Pensacola native, met Dissanayake. The two made it back to Pensacola about 10 years ago with a mind to continue on in the food service industry. Dissanayake thought there was no better route to take than the seafood route, one that is very well-traveled on the Gulf Coast.
Fast forward to 2021, and without the benefit of a huge building or the major visibility of a downtown location, the Fishing Hole has punched above its weight by remaining consistent — consistent food quality, consistent service. The family-like atmosphere the owners cultivated hasn't hurt, either.
"I think people like our personalities and that we're actually around. You see the employers here, and it's not always like that," said Dissanayake, who is also the head chef at both locations. "When (Kenneth) is there, people really like to see him. It's a fun environment."
The Fishing Hole at 15 Brent Lane was tiny at first, seating just 10 people. But the demand came fast, and in 2014, the business was able to knock down a wall and buy the next-door property so it could increase its square footage and seating capacity.
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Above all else, that demand was based on the food and what was a modest menu of mullet, catfish and tilapia. Pensacola native Ken Jernigan can attest to the quality of that initial menu as the very first paying customer at the Pensacola Fishing Hole.
Jernigan even remembers what he ordered on that day in 2012.
"Mullet and turnip greens," said Jernigan, a longtime family friend of Jones. "The shrimp and crab chowder, that's to kill for. I remember when (Dissanayake) developed the shrimp and grits a few years ago, and how wonderful that dish is. The recipes are wonderful and they have a number of people that are in that restaurant on a continuous basis."
In addition to the aforementioned trio of staple fish dinners, full mahi mahi, grouper, red snapper, flounder, oyster and trigger dinners are already listed on the menu at the new Milton Fishing Hole, which is at 3974 Avalon Blvd. You can also get a plate of mahi mahi fish tacos, shrimp tacos, chicken tacos and choose from a hefty variety of fish sandwiches, salads and appetizers.
"Mullet is a No. 1 seller in this area and I like to think we do it pretty well," Kenneth Jones said. "(Dissanayake's) blackened mahi mahi tacos, the blackened shrimp tacos? Amazing."
Despite sustained success over the last few years, the owners were not eager to expand. The business partners did it once and felt overworked during the duration of dual restaurant ownership.
"We actually opened another location in 2016, I opened a 100-seat restaurant in Gulf Breeze," Dissanayake shared. "But we did close that a few years later because they started building the (Pensacola Bay) bridge."
This year, Dissanayake and Jones rethought their anti-expansion stance when the Milton property on Avalon Boulevard became available.
"It's a great area, it's right across from the new courthouse being built, and we got it for almost nothing," Jones said.
Dissanayake called the opportunity "perfect."
"It was a really great business deal that came along," the Sri Lankan-born entrepreneur said. "We actually closed on the purchase in less than 24 hours. It was like God calling us. It was supposed to happen."
For the Fishing Hole's first two weeks in Milton, it will be open for lunch only, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. After that, the owners said, the 45-seat restaurant will install the same hours as the Pensacola location, which are 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Both locations are closed Sundays.
In six months, the Milton Fishing Hole will build an enclosed extension in front of the property that will be air conditioned and heated. Dissanayake said another 35 or 40 seats will be added via that buildout, so the restaurant will just about double its seating capacity this winter.
Jake Newby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8538.