By Susan Benton
Hailing from Tennessee as the owners for the past decade of Brookhaven Pub & Grill, the place to be seen in East Memphis, Rick and his daughter Christy Spell are the newest faces behind George’s at Alys Beach and La Cocina Mexican Grill and Bar in Seacrest Beach, with wife and mom Sandy in the biggest role, the support system.
Seeking to increase their restaurant portfolio, the duo, and both savvy accountants by trade, made attempts but never felt the right connection until they met Ann and George Hartley, who currently still own Seagrove Village MarketCafe. “We were all in the right place at the right time and seeking the same objectives. Our philosophies are similar with how we treat employees, as well as our customers. It was just meant to be,” said Christy.
Though Rick is the investor and Christy is the managing partner of the restaurants, mom Sandy agreed when they hired Patrick Miller as the new General Manager for George’s. He brings with him an extensive background in restaurant management, and as Christy explains, “My mom and dad were dining at Fleming’s in Memphis, where they grew to know Patrick for more than ten years. Patrick mentioned in passing he might like to move to Florida, and when they learned that he meant South Walton, as he vacationed in Seaside growing up, we all knew it was the perfect fit!”
As the GM, Patrick is meeting, greeting, and making sure all runs smoothly at George’s, so Christy can ensure the restaurants are held to the highest standards, are successful, and the guest’s experiences are the best they can be.
Leveraging her time between the three locations, the last time I spoke to Christy, she and her family were contemplating a condo in the area, but as of July, have settled comfortably in a home in Alys Beach. Christy says, “We fell in love with the area, and wanted to walk and bike to our restaurants when possible!”
The “behave” and “misbehave” staples remain on the menu, like the fried pickled okra on the Alys burger with collard pimento blue cheese, and the spicy salt & pepper shrimp. Seasonal signature items like Christy’s favorite grilled scallops with pork belly add additional international flair. “You must try the new desserts, they are fabulous, especially the smoked pineapple cornbread cake with coconut gelato!” said Christy.
Georges building offers a comfortable cozy cottage feel. “I love to sit and watch the kids play in the fountain on the lily pad, but, La Cocina is a totally different concept and close to my heart, as I adore Mexican cuisine! “Christy explains
The dishes created are soulful and satisfying at La Cocina, and the staff couldn’t be more enthusiastic. With fresh produce brought in daily, Christy says, “I walk into the kitchen in the morning and it smells like a vegetable garden! The hand-squeezed juices are amazing and enhance the specialty cocktails prepared at the bar.” There is a new “bar only” menu featuring Juan-Ton grilled steak tacos, Seacrest Ceviche with fresh gulf shrimp, and Three Lil Puerco’s, slow roasted carnitas sliders topped with fresh avocado to name a few.
The sauces, beans and proteins are prepared each day in house, and the brisket that cooks overnight is sumptuous and falls apart when ready to savor following day. Knowing how much my family can’t get enough of the hot, thin, salty chips and spicy salsa, Christy let me in on a secret that they may be bottling their salsa in the near future.
Burns Patterson is the GM at La Cocina, and no stranger to the business, as he is a former Montgomery restaurateur with an extensive background in sales, and was hired by the Hartley’s prior to the transaction with the Spell’s. “He has been invaluable in overseeing the staff, while Juan Cruz our kitchen manager has stepped up the quality of food by making it even more authentic, as he is from Vera Cruz, Mexico. Juan worked his way up the ranks for the last five years and it is special to watch young people grow, develop, and bring out their talents.” Christy said.
Photos: George’s, La Cocina, Mellow Media