Miramar Beach’s Tops’l Beach and Racquet Resort
When it comes to operating the Ocean Club Restaurant & Bar, Cary Shahid does it his way. An independent restaurant owner, Shahid has anchored his success by staying true to what he knows and loves best; world-class quality and unwavering consistency with a twist of Southern charm, served straight up to a longtime loyal fan base of locals and tourists.
Shahid opened the Ocean Club in Miramar Beach’s Tops’l Beach and Racquet Resort 30 years ago, distinguishing his operation using a throwback vibe from a time when an evening out meant cocktails, dinner, and dancing – Dean Martin style. His restaurant continues to maintain its poise and popularity among the ever-evolving dining options on the Emerald Coast.
“We are not a corporation. We’re old school; that’s how I think and that’s what I like – anything old school,” he says emphatically. “I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was very engaging with good memories.”
That warm, personal feeling is one he strives to replicate and share daily with his customers, whom he treats more like guests of honor at a nightly dinner party.
“When you walk into Ocean Club and you see these familiar faces, have a good meal and listen and dance to good music, it’s an experience. You leave here feeling good,” he adds.
Growing up in Northwest Florida, Shahid knows of what he speaks. His father, Ernest Shahid, was one of the Emerald Coast’s earliest developers and the man through whom he learned of the finer things in life. His father, whom Shahid describes as a “real visionary…a risk-taker” and “one of the pioneers of Destin,” opened the Shoreline Hotel in 1954, one of the area’s finest resorts. Because of his fondness for fine food, Ernest Shahid hired the chef from New Orleans’ famed Monteleone Hotel, and the beachside restaurant and hotel became a very popular dining destination for tourists. Living at the hotel, Young Shahid learned not just the trade, but the art of hospitality as well, all by his father’s side.
After graduating from the University of Kentucky where he played football, Shahid moved to Atlanta and embarked on the first phase of his career: owning several retail outlets, including liquor and clothing stores. In 1984, he and his parents opened the Beachside Café on Destin’s Holiday Isle. Four years later the opportunity to purchase property just off Highway 98 at Tops’l was presented to Shahid, and the businessman knew the opportunity could not be missed.
The Ocean Club opened its doors on Memorial Day weekend in 1989, offering a total entertainment experience in the tradition of 1950s and 60s supper clubs including dinner, wine or cocktail service, and dancing to live music. These unique elements have been the restaurant’s mainstay over the years.
“I have always loved live music. I am a music nut, to begin with, and I enjoy dancing. Dancing is one of the most charming things there is. I like old-style dancing,” Shahid says of his enthusiasm towards giving guests a truly memorable experience. Many customers enjoy it for just that reason.
Many Ocean Club customers agree. Miramar Beach resident, Suzanne Harris, who has hosted holiday parties at the restaurant for many years, likes the mix of good food and live entertainment for her groups, which can include up to 150 people. She says the hospitality is what keeps her coming back because every guest feels like they are truly appreciated.
That kind of genuine hospitality is Shahid’s key to success. He says it’s in the consistency, from the first greeting to the after-dinner drinks and entertainment, it’s what separates Ocean Club from other establishments in the industry. Shahid credits employees, chefs Hai Pho and Junior Pho, who have been with the restaurant since it’s opening.
With the tradition of offering unwavering exceptional service and some of the best live entertainment around, it could be easy to overlook the food, but the quality and freshness of each meal brings the cuisine back to center stage.
Chef Pho prepares some of the area’s finest dishes, often featuring local ingredients. Dishes such as the popular Grouper Ocean Club, featuring sautéed or grilled fish topped with shrimp and crab meat: a rich, creamy, two cheese crabmeat au gratin; fried lobster tail; and a plump soft-shell crab sautéed and topped with pecans and almonds, served with fettuccini Alfredo, keeps guests coming back.
Shahid credits the loyalty of his employees, some of whom have been working for him going on two decades, as a key ingredient to the restaurant success.
Shahid speaks with great pride of exceeding his guests’ expectations and looks forward to the days and nights happily spent at the Ocean Club doing things his own distinct way. “You know, a business is only as good as the enthusiasm you still have for it. I always tell people, once you lose your enthusiasm, everybody loses it,” he says. “One of the good things about being in the tourist business is that it’s easy to get excited about it. I definitely have not lost my enthusiasm for the business.”
Ocean Club | 8955 U.S. 98 | Miramar Beach, FL 32550 | (850) 267-3666 | Ocean Club Website
Coastal Palate Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
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