By LYNN LOFTON
In recent years, a group of restaurants has been built close together along a section of beachfront property in East Biloxi. The restaurants, built in the beach shack style made popular in Florida, stand in a row at water’s edge, leading some observers to refer to them as Restaurant Row. The moniker is not official; nor was there any single plan to develop this section of property into a dining mecca. It just happened when restaurateurs Ron Ladner and Rob Stinson opened their casual dining venues.
In 2011, Shaggy’s was the first restaurant to open at this location on the former site of a pre-Hurricane Katrina Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant. With a successful Shaggy’s in the Pass Christian Harbor, owner Ron Ladner wanted to open a second venue and thought Biloxi far enough away to not pull customers from his first location.
“This location was always a popular place on the beach and the demographics hadn’t changed,” he said. “The Shaggy’s lot is the only one down there that’s not in a high-velocity zone.”
Not being in a high-velocity zone (an area along a Coast subject to inundation by flooding associated with storm-induced waves) gives Ladner a break on the cost of waterfront insurance, but in reality he says business is so good it wouldn’t matter. He owns two acres of this prime spot and recently opened a second restaurant, The Salty Oyster.
“We added a second dining option to give our customers something different and to shorten their wait time,” he said. “The next problem we’re tackling is parking, and I’ve struck a deal for more space for that. We’re beyond capacity and will concentrate on serving our customers.”
Ladner built a boardwalk connecting his businesses, complete with popcorn, a pirate’s ship, games, music and fun.
“We could call this Shaggy’s Row,” he said, “and we’ll keep adding things for families to have fun experiences.”
There have been a couple of false starts by other restaurant owners.
“We’re all competitors, but I hated to see the others fail,” Ladner said. “We started something down there and I want the area to be a success.”
Rob Stinson is a seasoned chef with several restaurants and a successful Mississippi Public Broadcasting program under his belt. He opened The Reef last year on the beach in Biloxi.
“I think a better name for this stretch of restaurants is Biloxi Boardwalk Row because a true beach boardwalk and pier are going to be built from the old beachside Treasure Bay property to the restaurants,” he said.
“The funding is available, and I will try to get involved in the project. There’s a lot of property there and there should be some sort of marketing plan.”
Stinson’s other restaurants are not the open-air style.
“I was looking at another Biloxi location, but I was watching what Shaggy’s was doing and thought our restaurant would be complimentary to it,” he said. “We included creature comforts such as air-conditioning, an elevator and real food that we thought would help them and us; both our sales are up.”
The area was ripe for family dining places, Stinson feels.
“Lots of families don’t want to go into casinos, and they don’t want to eat at national chains,” he said. “I felt there was a huge need, but it’s been dramatically more than I thought.”
He too says the high cost of insurance has not been a problem due to building with fortified construction.
“You have to build correctly in that location, and let’s face it, it’s still a crap shoot but that’s the Coast.”
This 42-year-restaurant veteran is optimistic about the future of beachside dining in Biloxi. His Beach Bums is scheduled to open shortly and Baja Beach will open by Labor Day. Beach Bums Bar and Grill will cater to a young adult crowd.
“Baja Beach will be truly a Tex-Mex restaurant and a lot more,” Stinson said. “We’ll have home made tortillas made in a glass enclosure. Kids can get a free hot buttered tortilla. It’s a huge space that we think will be a family haven.”
Ladner, a Coast native who ran a successful software services business in Atlanta, also has a Shaggy’s in Pensacola, Fla., and will soon announce another Coast location between Pass Christian and Biloxi. “We’ll continue doing what we do best — open-air dining in a fun environment,” he said.