Margaritaville Beach Hotel gets its start with a meeting, and a road trip
Buffett, hotel deal rock Hess’ world
BY LISA NEWELL Gulf Breeze News
Marilyn Hess feels as if she won the lottery. As head of Little Sabine, Inc., she was finalizing the details to open a Gulf-front hotel on Pensacola Beach, replacing the Holiday Inn that Hurricane Ivan washed away in 2004.
A phone call from a friend turned her plans upside down.
She met the friend, who is also involved in hotel development in Atlanta, when in walked Jimmy Buffett and the CEO of Margaritaville Holdings, John Cohlan.
A few days later, Buffett came to tour the nearly completed hotel and invited Hess along on a road trip to his Margaritaville Café in Panama City where he planned an impromptu performance.
Hess said she couldn't believe she was on a road trip with Jimmy Buffett, music legend and connoisseur of the laidback lifestyle, and felt like a teenager.
“He is charming and delightful,” Hess said of Buffett.
To top it off, Buffett insisted on stopping each and every Budweiser beer truck he encountered to chat with the drivers and talk about his Land Shark Lager.
“He pulled into the Circle K in Navarre because he saw the beer truck there, and he took pictures with everybody,” Hess said. The employee behind the counter begged for a photo to show her boss, a Parrot Head who otherwise wouldn’t believe he missed the chance to meet his idol.
Hess was at a loss for words to describe her magical day.
“I just can’t tell you,” Hess said. “I got to watch him play in Panama City. It wasn’t scheduled … he just showed up.”
Hess, whose ventures include American Fidelity Insurance as well as hotels from Orange Beach to Destin, was smitten by Buffett and his associates.
“He surrounds himself with fabulous people,” she said. And his commitment to the Gulf Coast is real. He considers this Gulf Coast to be his home, from Gulf Shores to Panama City.”
Her Orange Beach hotel, the Island House, is near Buffett’s sister’s waterfront restaurant, Lulu’s, and often hosts the local Parrot Head clubs.
But now the real work begins. To meet the target opening in mid to late June for the Margaritaville Beach Hotel, workers are retrofitting the kitchen to accommodate “Frank and Lola’s” restaurant inside the hotel so it can serve signature Margaritaville Café dishes such as the “cheeseburger in paradise.” A pool bar is being constructed as well as an outdoor bar and entertainment area tentatively named “Land Shark Landing.” The Margaritaville Café is scheduled to open on a parcel adjacent to the hotel in Spring of 2011.
“Frank and Lola's” is a reference to the 1982 Buffett song about a couple on their second honeymoon in Pensacola, a reference most fans will recognize.
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Room rates will range from $195 to $450 per night depending on the season and accommodations. Margaritaville Beach Hotel will offer meeting space, a board room and a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico through massive glass windows.
“It will have the most beautiful bar area you can imagine,” Hess said.
Reservations will be taken at www.margaritavillehotel.com within a few days, and it is expected to be a hit, especially with the national press the venture is getting.
Hess said USA Today is planning a spread on the hotel in its Friday edition.