November is not one of the premier months along the Panhandle of Florida.
The summer season is long gone. What passes for fall here can quickly deteriorate into a haphazard winter.
Many businesses—particularly restaurants—quickly wind down. Turning a profit is usually out of the question. Breaking even can be a formidable task. It’s too soon to start preparing for the spring, and the busy days of summer are just a memory.
The change in pace can be refreshing. The Gulf is often too rough to fish, but bay fishing is good for trout, redfish and flounder. Oysters taste best this time of year. There’s less traffic. Many people take the time to travel. Lots of fishermen become deer hunters. The college football season captivates whole families and is particularly enjoyable for Alabama fans.
Business is slow, but for my family— both at work and at home—it is the best month of the year.
This year will be the 23rd annual Take- A-Kid Fishing Day at Harbor Docks.
On Nov. 5, 36 charter boats will back up to our docks and take more than 300 kids fishing in the Gulf.
We now take kids fishing whose parents fished with us—many for the first time—over two decades ago. We’ve taken more than 7,000 children fishing—always on the first Sunday in November—and provided them with breakfast, a fish fry, rods and reels, and t-shirts.
Harbor Docks hosts the event. But we are a very small part of this operation.
The day is made possible by the generous people who donate items for our charity auction. The Donut Hole and the Chandler family feed hundreds of people breakfast and help pay for the charter boats. John Wise donates rods and reels. Trey Nick does whatever needs to be done.
Boat captains make one last trip of the year and keep track of the youngsters and catch lots of fish. Our town’s heritage—and this sometimes seems forgotten—is fishing. This day helps us remember.
And the volunteers. It seems to be the same people every year. The beautiful schoolteachers who handle the paperwork. All kinds of people who help herd and feed the kids. On the dock— sending the children off and welcoming them back—will be Jimmy Patzig and Tommy Norred, both displaying good humor and charming smiles.
David “Catfish” Knight won’t be with us on the docks anymore, but he’ll be with us in spirit. And we’ll never forget how instrumental he was from the very beginning of this wonderful tradition.
That’s not all.
On Nov. 23, Harbor Docks will host our Thanksgiving dinner for the 23rd year. (We must have been feeling guilty about something 23 years ago.)
Ann Jones, our benevolent icon, will prepare food for 2,000 people. That’s a hell of a sentence (in more ways than one), and not entirely accurate. Ann has some help from a bevy of volunteers. Jackie Tway, as always, organizes the troops. But this was Ann’s idea, and it was a really good one.
We’ll raise over $20,000 again this year for Habitat for Humanity and Destin Harvest. It’s an incredible day for everyone—volunteers, guests, and Harbor Docks’ staff. But now, there is more to it than that.
Ann’s idea, like many good ideas, has traveled. Her idea has spread. Thanksgiving feasts will take place at our restaurants in Athens, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Mobile—and not for the first time in any of those cities.
We’ll feed—using Ann’s recipes—more than 5,000 people and raise lots of money for a variety of charities on the best day of our year.
We couldn’t be a part of this if our restaurants weren’t profitable. We’re in business after all. But our best day, hands down, is a day in which we show no profit and incur quite a bit of expense.
It’s not just our best day. It’s a beautiful day for our volunteers and our guests and for lots of charitable organizations. And it’s a luxury.
“Business is business!” I’m pretty sure that is taught in business schools. I wouldn’t know. I have the least amount of formal education in business possible. I have none. If it wasn’t for spell check. I’m not sure I could spell “business.”
But I do know this. It is a tremendous pleasure and extremely rewarding to provide employment for others. It is a gift to be a part of a profitable enterprise. It’s impossible to achieve certain things outside of business if an operation isn’t successful. Our group has made a nice living over the years selling food at a profit.
Giving it away one day a year is not a big deal.
And almost always, the important things—the things that last, the things we can all be most proud of—happen outside the physical walls of any business.
November is our best month.