By Samantha Lambert
“The community has become our family and has been very good to us.”
– Gerald Perillo
Family-owned and operated since 1954, Joe & Eddie’s is the place where both locals and visitors gather for a quality home-cooked meal. You can have breakfast all day every day, as well as lunch and dinner.
The current owner is Ann Perillo, whose late husband Gerard was the nephew of Joe & Eddie’s founder Joseph Polazzo. Gerard came down from New York in 1962 to work for his uncle. Ann arrived from Atmore, Alabama a couple years later and started working as a waitress. Gerard and Ann were married at the end of 1964.
In 1973, Gerard and Ann bought the restaurant from Joseph—Eddie had left the restaurant business back in the late 1950s. Joe & Eddie’s Family Restaurant was located in downtown Fort Walton Beach until 2005, and the building was torn down in 2006. Gerard and Ann reopened in 2008 at 400 North Eglin Parkway. One of their good friends, Shirley Temple, had inherited the property and leased it to the Perillos. Ann is now in the process of buying the property.
Ann and Gerard had been married 51 years when Gerard passed away in December of 2014. “Gerard was the character of Joe & Eddie’s,” says Ann. “He was Italian and could be both gruff and soft. He loved to pull a joke! He had so many friends from all over the city and law enforcement. There were 600 people at his funeral.”
Ann and Gerard had three children, two of whom stepped in to help at the restaurant when Gerard passed away. Eddie is a retired Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputy, and Vicki does the cooking at the restaurant (she learned from her mother). Their other son, Gerard III, works as a counselor in Destin. There are 12 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Many of the family members have worked at Joe & Eddie’s in some capacity.
There are many long-time employees at Joe & Eddie’s. Cashier Cheryl Campbell has been here for 10 years. Chef Craig Swinarski has been working at the restaurant since he was in high school, starting out as a dishwasher. Swinarski grew up across the street from the Perillos. There are many 20-year employees who have either retired or passed away.
Nick DeCaprio, another New York transplant, is the restaurant’s night manager. He worked for the Fort Walton Beach Police Department for 28 years and then for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department for another 10. About three years ago, he was asked to help out at the restaurant by Gerard and Ann’s son Eddie.
“I met Gerard back in 1969, and we became good friends,” says DeCaprio. “Our families spent a lot of time together. My wife and I would come to the restaurant to eat, and many of our family members would come here as well. I enjoy talking to the people who come in and enjoy working with the cooks and servers.”
According to Ann, the top menu item at Joe & Eddie’s is Mother Tom’s Omelet. “Mother Tom was an entertainer who worked at the Lido Lounge, Kitty Kat Korner and Carmichael’s Surf Side 7,” she says. “He came into the restaurant one day and wanted a different kind of omelet, so Gerard made him (one) that included everything but the kitchen sink.”
For lunch, patrons can order burgers and deli-style sandwiches. There are popular daily specials, including homemade chicken and dumplings (Mondays), homemade meat loaf (Thursdays), and fresh mullet (Fridays). Other favorites include spaghetti with meat sauce, homemade pot roast, and catfish—fried or grilled. There are homemade desserts, too—banana pudding, chocolate mousse, and the Elvis Cake made by Ann herself.
Local families, civic organizations and church groups gather at Joe & Eddie’s to enjoy great food, discuss politics, or relax with family and friends over a cup of coffee. “Each month the Choctaw Scholarship Committee meets here,” says Ann. “We also have a coin club and a local motorcycle club, the Sandollar Club, that meet here.”
“Joe & Eddie’s was the place to go after you took your date home back in the 1960’s,” says Fort Walton Beach native Bill Roberts. “We would eat breakfast and go home. Today, my wife and I go there for breakfast after church.”
Longtime FWB resident and Beach Liquors owner Mike Kelley has many memories of Joe & Eddie’s. “In the 1970’s, we used to go there for breakfast after a night out. Joe & Eddie’s was open 24-7 back then. I remember they had small jukeboxes at each table, and it cost a quarter to play a song. I also used to work out with Gerard Perillo at Gold’s Gym early in the morning when the restaurant was downtown. We would work out around 6:30, and then Gerard would go right back to work.”
Kelley points out that Gerard and Ann Perillo were always at the front door of the restaurant to greet customers. “Their attention to the personal care of their customers was outstanding, and the food has always been great.”
“We take care of our customers here at Joe & Eddie’s,” says Ann. “People like to come in to socialize with their friends and the servers. Our friendships with customers make the job worthwhile.”