GULFPORT -- The iconic Blow Fly restaurant will be back after repairs and a facelift, says the man who bought the building and its name in 1997 from the original owner.
Victor Bazzone, a Gulfport neurosurgeon, says he plans to reopen no later than July 4, and on Wednesday morning will meet with the staff of 38 to assure them they still have jobs.
Proprietor and chef Scott Weinberg called a meeting Monday night to tell the staff he was closing the restaurant. The final plate to leave the kitchen was a seafood platter, he said when he looked back over the tickets Tuesday.
Before his lease and right to the Blow Fly name expired, Weinberg said he was unable to reach an agreement that would allow him to remain with the business. Two weeks ago, Weinberg said, he received a written notice to vacate by midnight Tuesday.
Weinberg is taking with him equipment, memorabilia and, most importantly, his recipes. There will be no more Weinberg-style crawfish etouffee, gumbo, stuffed flounder, pasta Bernard or special fry batter.
Weinberg mourned the loss of his restaurant family more than the food.
"I've been really fortunate over the years to have some great customers and employees," he said. He said he is going to take some time to decide what he wants to do next.
Weinberg said he was advised against telling the staff sooner that the restaurant would be closing because he would lose customers and employees. Volunteers from Loaves and Fishes, a Gulfport soup kitchen, picked up the food that remained in the kitchen.
Blow Fly memories
The Blow Fly first opened back in 1955 in a wooden building with sawdust floors. In earlier decades, the restaurant was known for its steaks, barbecue ribs, catfish and desserts. Diners ate at picnic tables covered with red and white-checkered table cloths. A plastic fly adorned each plate.
The original owners, Albert and Mary Malone, built the restaurant's name and reputation. Weinberg, the third proprietor, extended that reputation. The Blow Fly has been featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," and in Southern Living.
"It's become a big brand over the years," Weinberg said. "I felt like I spent 18 years building it up, so it's much more valuable than when I took over."
Several of the waitresses have been at the Blow Fly longer than Weinberg, including one 41-year veteran who was too upset to talk Tuesday. The employees did not realize at the time that they still have jobs, if they want them.
More than one waitress also has other family members who work at the Blow Fly, including Jennifer Brown. Her mom is a waitress, too. Brown's celebrated her 16th birthday with a Blow Fly meal.
"I was supposed to work today," said Brown, who was standing in the kitchen Tuesday during what should have been the lunch rush. "I dropped my nephew off at day care and just came here because I didn't know what else to do."
Customers were at loose ends, too. They whizzed into the parking lot for lunch to be confronted by a sign that announced the closing. One of the waitresses called Richard Diamantopoulous to tell him because he has eaten lunch and dinner at the Blow Fly every day, seven days a week, since his wife died in September. He liked the food and the company. If the waitresses weren't too busy, they sat and visited after his meal.
"The people that worked there were tremendous," he said. "They were courteous, they were helpful, they were pleasant."
Before the Blow Fly reopens, Bazzone plans repairs and cosmetic improvements.
He'll keep the famous name. He also said the restaurant will be closer to its previous incarnation, a "retro Blow Fly." Steaks, catfish and ribs will make a comeback. It won't be known as a seafood restaurant, he said, although flounder and red fish could be on the menu. He will be involved in managing the restaurant, but will hire a chef.
Bazzone bought the Blow Fly because he loved the restaurant and the food. He hopes to continue its tradition as a family restaurant, he said, where generations have dined.
Bazzone is bringing back one other popular feature, he promises: the plastic fly that adorned plates.