Kevin Moran joined the staff at Groovy Grouper a few weeks ago, taking the position of managing partner at the Destin Commons eatery. Heading up the restaurant—which itself opened fairly recently—is a welcome challenge for Moran, who has been a general manager for 15 years, working at noted area fine dining spots like Seagar’s, Fish Out of Water, Ruth’s Chris and Crush.
Moran has been in the restaurant business for 36 years, since his start at age 16. From entry-level dishwasher he moved up to bartender, then waited tables. He proudly notes that he achieved the rank of sommelier at 25, a singular accomplishment for one so young.
He even worked for a time as a cook. In fact, cooking professionally had been his original ambition, leading him to culinary school and a job in a restaurant kitchen. Moran says he was doing good work, but his boss saw he had an even greater talent for “front of house” duties—managing and meeting customers.
He will also take into account quality to price ratio, broad market appeal, and a restaurant industry calculation of entree price x2, equaling average bottle price. Under this formula, two entrees at $15 each would equal $30 for a bottle of wine, etc. Moran plans to keep the bottle price range between $20 and $50.
He continued to learn, and his interests and people skills eventually earned him a post as wine buyer for a large, high volume Italian restaurant in Chicago, a city where he spent 10 fondly remembered years. He also worked at the Pump Room in Chicago.
“I hope to bring many years of experience and attention to detail to Groovy Grouper,” he says. The restaurant is striving to main a casual setting, but to provide diners with quality on a par with any fine dining establishment— ”something for everyone.”
One of Moran’s main areas of focus these days is planning and building “a respectable wine list.” His aim is to choose 50 wines to start, 15 to be sold by the glass, the remainder in bottles. Since the average wine list at his previous restaurants was between 300 and 500 bottles, Moran knows he will have to be “much more rigorous” and selective, which he admits is going to be “harder for me.”
For now he is sampling possibilities, holding staff wine tastings so waiters can advise diners on wine pairings, and initiating plans for wine dinners and classes open to the public. Classes are planned to start in January of 2014.
Moran also plans to build Groovy Grouper’s reputation as a go-to spot for handcrafted cocktails, taking some of his inspiration from bars like New Orleans’ popular Cure. As with the wine, this will entail educating and training bartenders in using “new and unique ingredients.” Moran says he and the staff will be “very busy.”
As for the food, Moran defers to the expertise of Groovy Grouper’s Chef Orion Cordoves (recently featured in a Beachcomber Chefs Up Close profile) whose menu offers both variety and deliberately modest pricing. “We hope to build a year-round market, “ says Moran. In addition to summer visitors, Groovy Grouper has set its sights on locals, families, wine and food enthusiasts, and anyone else who wants “a great meal without spending too much on wine.”
For those whose tastes run to beer, Moran says that Groovy Grouper currently has 25 beers on tap and 12 in bottles.
Though he does not do any cooking at the restaurant, Moran loves to cook for his wife and two children. The Morans recently bought a home, which he says accommodates 26 guests for dinner. When Kevin is not working at the Groovy Grouper from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., his family enjoys skiing and swimming.
Kevin Moran and the staff at Groovy Grouper welcome everyone looking for “a wonderful dining experience” for lunch and dinner daily, starting at 11 a.m. The restaurant is located at 4304 Legendary Drive (in Destin Commons, the former Time Out Bar & Grill location), Suite C110. Call (850) 424-7172 for more information.