Lulu’s 20th Anniversary
Fun. Food. Music.
Lucy Buffett had never run a restaurant before she opened the original LuLu’s at the Fish River Bridge on Highway 98, where Weeks Bay meets Fish River. She had a gift, though – actually, more than just one gift. She had a gift for hard work and hospitality, a way with food, and an ability to bring out the best in people. “Even then, in our little place with barely a hundred seats, we began to have a following, to develop an identity,” Lucy says. “We were just a bunch of river rats – the staff and the customers alike – but we grew into a family, a culture.”
When LuLu’s lost its lease at its first location, Lucy, with the encouragement of her partner in both life and business, Mac McAleer, packed up everything that wasn’t nailed down – literally – and loaded it onto a barge to make the trek to the current Gulf Shores location, which opened for business in 2004. “This move and this commitment to a much larger operation was the biggest challenge I’d ever had to face,” Lucy says. “I was a worker bee, not an entrepreneur, and here I was moving into a location with 300 seats. I had no training for this, but we made it happen. We somehow kept the family feeling, the culture we had developed, and let it grow and evolve in this new environment. Every job I’d ever had prepared me for what I was doing.”
Popular Menu Items
– Fried Shrimp Basket
– Crab Claws
Lucy brought some of her staff along and still has three members of the original crew with her – her two daughters, and veteran server, Lydia Mee. One of Lucy’s daughters now handles special projects, trademarks, and online sales; her other daughter takes care of social media and music for the three locations. Lydia has been in management for the past ten years. She oversees special events and two different departments. “I believe what Lucy is offering here is a home away from home, a place to develop memories as well as experience delicious food and wholesome fun,” she says. “It never feels like work to me. I raised my son here, put him through college – and now he works here!” Lydia explains that most employees at LuLu’s are college grads, and quite a few have master’s degrees. “LuLu’s offers its employees benefits, which is rare in our industry. We have access to health insurance and 401(k) programs, and people can make good money here. They stay and become family.”
Locations in Destin and North Myrtle Beach, SC followed. “We have been able to keep the brand, the culture, intact. Each location has its unique aspects, but they are all on the same page about the food, the atmosphere, the ambiance,” says Lucy. “We even have the same music playlist for each day at all of the locations. The music changes by the season, but you can go into any location and know that the same music is playing in the other two!”
LuLu’s 20th Anniversary Celebration is underway with birthday parties scheduled for the first Saturday of each month. Celebratory events include birthday cake for everyone, music, prizes, raffles, and games for the whole family. A commemorative 20th birthday t-shirt, as well as vintage LuLu’s t-shirts, are available for purchase. Festivities culminate with a large party on October 12, in celebration of LuLu’s birthday and Lucy’s birthday, too. Special events will take place all day with music by the Tip Tops on the boat stage.
Lucy Buffett looks back over the last twenty years of LuLu’s history and sees what she has made. “I certainly didn’t envision all this when I started,” she admits.
It came a piece at a time, a step at a time. There is still a vision for the future, room for more growth – but there is nothing on the drawing board right this minute. It is bigger than I envisioned, but I never limited what we could do, the potential for growth. I’m happy with what we have done, and I plan to keep going.
Some of Lucy’s Favorite Things
Noon Years Eve Celebration: “We open at 10:00 am on New Year’s Eve,” says Lucy. “We count down at noon. There are hundreds of beach balls that drop from the rafters; there is bubble wrap all over for jumping on and popping – this is our safe fireworks! It’s the most fun family event ever! We will have 1,500 to 2,000 people for this celebration, and then we close at 3:00 p.m. and we’re all off the next day!”
LuLu’s Allergy (free) Menu: “We are so proud of what we have been able to accomplish in order to provide a safe and delicious dining experience for guests with allergies or food sensitivities,” says Lucy. “We have developed a system that really works. When a guest tells the server that there is an allergy issue, a manager takes over and takes the order. The food is prepared in an entirely separate kitchen and is delivered by the same manager. We are able to accommodate all sorts of food issues, and it makes us happy to serve guests who can be confident they are getting a specially prepared meal.”
LuLu’s Coolest Technology: “We are so pleased to use DineTime’s GET IN LINE service to assist in keeping our guests’ wait time to a minimum. Guests can Beat the Wait by accessing this feature on our website and get on the list before they start out. It’s not a reservation, but it sure beats a really long wait!”
Lucy’s Biggest Challenge: “I think our biggest challenge is keeping the family feeling, the culture we have built while wearing a lot of hats and staying open to growth and new opportunities. I’m proud that we have been able to accomplish this.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHANDLER WILLIAMS
& PASCHEN FRUIT PHOTOGRAPHY
Coastal Palate Magazine, all rights reserved.
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