BILOXI -- "It's definitely a sad day at the Beau Rivage," Ron Hall, food and beverage manager, said Tuesday as he and others who had worked with Chef TJ Antell now work with shock and grief.
Hall got a call Monday afternoon from Antell's sister-in-law, telling him the former chef at Jia restaurant at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino was fatally shot outside his new gym in Arlington, Texas.
"It's very rough for the family, needless to say," said Hall. Antell's wife, Crystal, saw the shooting, according to published accounts.
They have three children, Hayden, Rilee and Liam, said Jake Mizell, also a CrossFit gym owner in Arlington, who set up a GoFundMe account for Antell's family. Within 15 hours, $13.440 in donations came in from 285 people.
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Employees at Beau Rivage are sharing stories, memories and praying for his family, said Mary Cracchiolo-Spain, public relations director at the Beau Rivage, and some plan to attend his funeral.
Antell was a recognizable figure in South Mississippi as the subject of a Beau Rivage Advertising campaign that saw his picture on billboards across the Coast. With his creativity and professionalism, "He did personify the Beau Rivage," Cracchiolo-Spain said. "He had flair."
Antell earned a culinary degree in Florida and was working as executive sous chef for Fitzpatrick Hotel in New York when he was invited to Biloxi for a food tasting job interview at the Beau Rivage.
Hall said it was by far one of the best and most unique tastings he's ever experienced.
His culinary technique was traditional Japanese with fusion and modern twist, Hall said. He had strong Asian roots -- his mother and grandmother are Japanese.
Hall said he will always remember Antell's precision -- the cuts of his mushrooms, the trimmings of his scallops and the thinness of his sushi slices.
Hall had just taken over as food and beverage director when Antell was hired in 2010 and Hall said, "Jia was having a real identity crisis at that time."
Antell was there about four years and with passion and showmanship transformed the restaurant, Hall said, making it a hip place to be for the resort.
"He would come out and touch every table every single night," Hall said. "Anyone who dined in Jia knew TJ. People came back to see TJ. He was one of the best ambassadors we had."
Antell was happy to do cooking contests and demonstrations, Hall said.
"He just loves people. And he loves showing off. TJ was a lot of things but modest was not one of them," Hall said.
His rapport with his staff was equally impressive, Hall said. "It was a family environment in his restaurant. He pushed them to do better," and in the outpouring on social media Monday night, many of his staff said Antell gave them the foundations for a better life.
When he left the Beau Rivage his dream was to open a gym, Hall said. Antell told him, "I love cooking, but I want to do my next dream now."