By Chris Manson
Former Harbor Docks owner and Beachcomber contributing writer Charles Morgan credits longtime employee Ann Jones (a/k/a Miss Ann) with the idea of opening the restaurant on Thanksgiving Day.
“I came up with the idea to give it away and accept donations for Habitat for Humanity,” he says. “It started slowly—people didn’t get the whole idea. But it grew quickly. Now we’re maxed out.”
Miss Ann picks up the story from here. “I asked Charles, ‘What do you want to do for Thanksgiving? Don’t you want to have Thanksgiving lunch?’ He said nobody went out on Thanksgiving.”
She says the restaurant’s menu and kitchen evolved considerably over the years. Some time ago, Charles asked if she could add fried chicken to the Harbor Docks menu. Her reply: “You’re asking a black woman if she can cook fried chicken?!?” Back then, the Harbor Docks kitchen didn’t even have a deep fryer.
Miss Ann says the restaurant served about 500 people that first year. “It was buffet style, which was hard to do. People would get up for more food, and someone would take their seats. The next one was a plated meal—the other way, we were running wild.
“Charles, he’s the best person to work with. He gives it his all. We’ve helped build homes for Habitat for Humanity and donated to other charities. It’s gotten to be a fun thing to do. We couldn’t do it without all the employees and volunteers that come in to help out.”
On Thanksgiving Day, “there’s a lot of chaos going on,” says Harbor Docks’ Jackie Tway. “But before that, it’s a lot of fun cooking.”
“We start making the cornbread for the dressing first,” says Miss Ann. “Then the turkeys come in. Last year, we did 175 or more turkeys—some people donate turkeys, so I lose count.”
“Making the cornbread is easy,” says Ms. Tway. “But mixing the individual batches of dressing, we have to try and get the flavor the same for all of them.”
Based on my visits, things seem to run smoothly these days. But, adds Ms. Tway: “Five years ago, we ran out of turkey and had to close at 5:30. That hasn’t happened since.”
This year’s dinner begins at 11 AM and lasts until 7 PM. There will be plenty of turkey and dressing, along with desserts donated by The Donut Hole. As always, it’s free, but donations are graciously accepted for Habitat for Humanity of Okaloosa County and Destin Harvest, the latter of whom will receive any leftover food from the event.
If there are any leftovers…