Capt. Dave’s on the Gulf makes us think of hot summer days turning into night when you couldn’t sit still at the dining table, so your parents told you to go out and play after you ordered your dinner. You’d tromp down the stairs, shucking your shoes and letting the hot sand squish between your toes. Games would be played, and sand would get in your clothes, and you didn’t care because it was summertime at the beach. “Dinner!” would be hollered from the deck and all the kids would look up to see whose parent it was, and then it was time to eat.
As spring approaches on the Emerald Coast, we had time to reminisce about days gone by with Jill Apperson and Austin Marler from Capt. Dave’s. It wasn’t easy to get these two talking about their growth and contributions to the community, but we peppered them with questions and they gave us great stories in return.
The view is everything you could ever wish for, and sunset at Capt. Dave’s is breathtaking. The food doesn’t disappoint, either.
Give us some quick background on your family and how Capt. Dave’s on the Gulf came about.
Jill answers with a tilt of her head that we take for shyness. Try to follow the bouncing family ball, because we had a little bit of a time keeping up. Jill’s mom and Austin’s grandma is Jane Marler-Vayda from Aniston, Alabama. Jane’s father raised her in the restaurant business where he had up to five restaurants at any given time.
Back in the day, when folks visited Destin, there would be a motel with a boat behind it, and you just hung out there on your vacation. It was no different for Jane and her dad. He would come down with Jane because his parents owned the Florida Girl motel and Party Boat Charter. The Florida Girl can still be seen in the Destin Harbor.
This is where Jane and David met, and Jane realized all that was missing was a place to feed people good seafood. So, Capt. Dave’s was born.
Since there wasn’t much competition, did things just take off back when you started in 1977?
Jill laughs. “No, there wasn’t much out on Old 98 when Capt. Dave’s began.” She thinks it was just the Beach House condo and not much else. They struggled at first, but family always prevails and hard work usually pays off. Very much the case with Capt. Dave’s.
Do you have a good employee story?
“Oh, yes,” Jill says with a full smile on her face. “A few years back, the employees created a new tradition for employees that were heading out the door on their last day of work. They would fill a commercial size trash can with ice water and get up on the roof and dump the water on the person as they were leaving on their last day. Future ex-employees started avoiding the back door and leaving by the front door, so they moved the tradition to the front door. Unfortunately, they missed the future ex-employee and doused two very unsuspecting diners! That was the day that tradition ended.”
Your Parmesan sauce is quite legendary. Is that an old family recipe?
Oh, no, it actually came out of boredom,” Austin says. “One winter night, it was super slow and we started messing around with ingredients that we had on hand, and boom! Parmesan sauce, and it’s been on the menu ever since. People love it.
It’s clear that this is not only a family-owned business, but it’s a family-run business. How long have you been working here?
Jill states that she’s been working at Capt. Dave’s since she was 18—when she started running the front of the house with her dad. Austin says he used to stack dish racks on the floor so he could see up into the dishwasher. He really started full-time when he was 15, bussing tables to save for a car. Jane, Jill’s mom, is still known for coming into the restaurant often and even getting behind the line to make sure standards are kept up.
Let’s talk again about that Parmesan sauce. Would you say that’s the one thing you have to try?
Austin mentions the Stuffed Shrimp Parmesan, and we spot a plate of it going by to be served to another table. It looks delicious, but we have to ask—how do you stuff a shrimp? They indulge us, explaining that it’s broiled shrimp with crab meat on top with Parmesan sauce. And it’s delicious.
Capt. Dave’s on the Gulf and the family that owns and operates it are a staple in the Destin community. Our fathers always told us—when traveling, eat at the restaurant that has a full parking lot. Capt. Dave’s has a full parking lot, but they can squeeze in a few more. And you can still send your kids down to the beach before dinner to play games and get some sand in their shoes.