April 11, 2013 - Orange Beach, AL (OBA) – Bob Baumhower loves to tell the story of the Compleat Angler, an old Bahamas Hemingway haunt where he spent many happy hours while playing football for the Miami Dolphins.
That’s how he wants people to feel when they visit his restaurants – nearly a dozen and counting. He wants folks to have fun.
Baumhower’s company, Aloha Hospitality, is taking over two spots in The Wharf in Orange Beach and one of those will be called the Compleat Angler. It’ll be located in the old Guy Harvey Grill space overlooking the marina. In the former Live Bait space, the flagship franchise of Aloha, Baumhower’s Restaurant will open with the familiar sports theme he started with and will feature 60 televisions.
“We’re a fun place,” he says. “We’ll have lots of activities going on. We’re going to have some old-school games from back in the day. The same type of atmosphere when you come in off the boat, come in get a bite and go in there and play a game of pool or ring game. That kind of stuff.”
The mainstay for entertainment will be veteran musician John Reno who brings to the stage a selection of songs written about experiences in the area. “The main theme we are going to do here is LA (Lower Alabama) with a little Caribbean accent,” Baumhower said. “That’s very important.”
This is Baumhower’s second Compleat Angler. The first is in Daphne in the old Nautilus location.
First and foremost the former football star says he needs staffing for both enterprises. His company will hold job fairs every Saturday in April to get the employees necessary to run the restaurants.
When all is said and done there will be a virtual “Baumhower Boardwalk” between the two businesses, including the boat bar nestled in a breezeway underneath the condos that leads to marina. The goal is something close to an ongoing festival on the walkway looking over the marina.
“We’ve got some cool outside seating that will lend itself to that, but it’s not just going to be outside,” Baumhower said. “It’s going to be all over the restaurant. We’re going to have face painting and we’re going to race crabs.”
It’ll be like bringing a little Key West to Orange Beach. “We’re working to set that up,” he said. “That’s an operational hurdle.”
And when he’s done with the boat bar, it’ll look more like a boat. “We’re putting a boat top on it to make it look more like a boat with outriggers so it’ll have rod holders, some rods sticking out of it,” Baumhower said. “Hopefully people will think it’s a great place to come get hooked up.”
But the underlying theme of all of his eateries is good, fresh food. “All of our shrimp is local shrimp from Bon Secour or Bayou La Batre,” Baumhower said. “We work hard on our food preparation. We use a lot of local stuff. All of our beef is always fresh. All of our chicken is always fresh. The grits are stone ground from Wilsonville. We use Wickles Pickles which is an Alabama company.”Look for gumbo to be the star attraction. “We’ll do a lot of gumbo stuff down here,” he said. “That’s going to be a big piece of the Compleat Angler, our gumbo.”
The original Compleat Angler hotel and bar was located in Bimini in the Bahamas and will provided the central theme for décor as well as in some Bimini-inspired food. “We’ll have a lot of Gulf Coast food with a little bit of Bahamian food and a little Cuban food,” Baumhower said. “It’ll be a nice mix.”
The original Compleat Angler is actually a book written in 1653 by Izaak Walton which has in turn inspired restaurants, hotels and tackle shops ever since. Baumhower said the book is still in print.
“Bimini is about 50 miles off of Fort Lauderdale and Miami,” he said. “When I was in Miami I got into going over there a bit. They were all huge Dolphin fans. I got involved in a fishing tournament over there called the Hemingway.
“Hemingway was a fan of Bimini and he stayed at the Compleat Angler in the 30s. You’ll see lots of pictures in here from Bimini with all kinds of people, former players, Win Rockefeller, all kinds of cool pictures.” That time and place and attitude is what Baumhower tries to recapture in his Compleat Angler restaurants.
“Back in the day The Compleat Angler was the centerpiece of Bimini and after everybody’d been out fishing all day, after they would go out to dinner, they would usually end up at the Angler,” he said. “You’ll see some pictures of Buffett playing at the Angler. We’ll have that kind of atmosphere mixed in with the Gulf Coast.”
The space where Guy Harvey’s sold art will be turned into a local gallery featuring local artists. “And that’s going to be a place that will encompass all mediums of all types of art,” he said. “Local, everybody will be local in there. That’ll be a place that’s going to highlight and feature local artists.”
Baumhower entered the restaurant business in the early 80s and was the first restaurateur in the state to serve chicken wings. People didn’t know what to expect, he said. “This was in 1981 and there were no wing places,” he said. “Hooters didn’t exist, none of those places existed. You said chicken wing and back then everybody’s thinking about a whole fried chicken wing from KFC. It was hard. The only way I could get it going was I had to start giving them away."
Besides Orange Beach, where Baumhower owned Mango’s and Calypso Joe’s at Orange Beach Marina from 1996 to 2005, Aloha Hospitality now operates restaurants in Daphne, Mobile, Montgomery, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. New locations are in the works for Auburn and Trussville.
A new Tuscaloosa restaurant, WingsU features New York-style brick, coal-fired ovens for a unique pizza flavor. The Auburn restaurant will be a WingsU location as well. Baumhower says he is happy to be back and praised The Wharf’s new owner, construction magnate Art Favre of Baton Rouge.
“In all my years I’ve never had such a good experience with a guy that really seems to be trying to do something special,” Baumhower said of Favre. “We’re real excited to be back down here.”