The Magnolia restaurant and bar to replace Dolce & Gelato in East Hill as owner retires

Jake Newby
Pensacola News Journal

The Dolce & Gelato in East Hill will permanently close Friday, but the sweetness that comes with that bitter bit of news is that The Magnolia restaurant and bar will soon replace it. 

Fate factored into a stressful situation for Magnolia owners Bill and Kiley Manning in early September when the couple was informed by their landlord that their lease on the property at 2907 E. Cervantes St. would not be renewed, though the Mannings were interested in an extension. 

The Magnolia restaurant's current location at 2907 East Cervantes Street in Pensacola on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021.  The restaurant is moving into the space occupied by Dolce & Gelato in East Hill as its owner retires.

As they began trying to find another place, another place found them when Dolce & Gelato owner Brenda Mader called less than two weeks ago.

Mader informed her friends of her looming retirement, and asked the Mannings if they were interested in taking over the lease of her building in East Hill, which for years was City Grocery. 

"It was freakish," Mader said, of the ironic timing. "The first people I thought of were Bill and Kiley. I met them early when I opened my shop and I had been going into the Magnolia, where I'd tease them. I'd say, 'Hey, come to East Hill, people want food, and I don't want to do food. I don't want to expand my kitchen. So I called them out of the blue and Bill said, 'Are you kidding me?'" 

Mader cited a "pandemic epiphany" for her retirement, which she wasn't targeting until she turned 60 in 2023. The 58-year-old Mader had a strong desire to spend more time with family, so she called it a career early. 

"She had no idea what was going on," Manning said, of Mader knowing the couple's predicament. "Nobody did, just me and Kiley. So it was the most perfect timing anyone could imagine."

Since opening in 2011, the Magnolia has carved out a reputation as a cozy, quaint little restaurant and bar known for its burgers, sandwiches, cocktails and dimly lit atmosphere.

Dolce & Gelato Resturant is in a cool neighborhood with something for everyone on Zaragoza Street.

The move across town into the Dolce & Gelato property at 2050 N. 12th Ave. means the Magnolia will greatly increase its seating capacity from less than 50 to just under 90. Revolver Records, which has operated inside of Dolce & Gelato since Mader opened in May 2019, will continue to operate there when the Magnolia transition is complete. 

Manning said his restaurant's identity won't change with the new digs, but a menu expansion might be in the cards to celebrate a fresh start. 

"We want to make sure that there's enough familiarity to where it still feels like the Magnolia, but when you go from this space, you're going to have to go through a personality change a little bit. So, there'll be some of the normal items and then there'll be some different stuff, too." 

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Both the Magnolia and Dolce & Gelato are currently closed for unrelated reasons. Manning said Magnolia closed earlier this summer so the owners and staff could take a break and reset.

Mader closed in September and has started selling her kitchen equipment, but said Dolce & Gelato will enjoy "one last hurrah" when the shop hosts a family-friendly drag show Friday. A game of bingo gets underway that night at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. 

"I like to think (Dolce & Gelato) brought the community together, people from all walks of life," Mader said Tuesday, reflecting on her two-and-a-half-year tenure in East Hill. "They understood it wasn't a gay bar, it wasn't a dive bar, it wasn't a bar for dates or for families. It was a gelato shop with a cool bar. People got to sit next to people they may not have otherwise sat next to. I think I turned it into a super welcoming spot."

Brenda Mader, owner of Dolce and Gelato in East Hill, cited a "pandemic epiphany" for her retirement.

Mader added that just because she's retiring as a business owner doesn't mean she's going anywhere. 

"I'll still be around, I'll just be on the other side of the bar," she said. 

The Magnolia is targeting a grand reopening in East Hill in November, according to Manning, who added that he's excited to join a growing hub of dining and entertainment up and down 12th Avenue. 

"I think we find ourselves in just another great neighborhood in Pensacola after spending 10 years in East Pensacola Heights," Manning said. "I think that road in Pensacola is yet to be fully developed so it's kind of a thoroughfare between the Cordova area and downtown. I feel like we'll get a lot of new faces and still see a lot of the same faces we've seen all these years." 

Jake Newby can be reached at jnewby@pnj.com or 850-435-8538.