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Couple's hunger for seafood leads them to open their own place

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By Alice Du Pont

Every time Reginald and Denise Cunningham went out for seafood, as much as three times per week, they had to leave town. The two said when they traveled throughout South Georgia and North Florida in search of good seafood, they invariably saw people in restaurants they knew from Gadsden County.

"We had been thinking about opening a business and since we weren't the only people in search of good seafood, we settled on opening this restaurant," said Denise.

It has taken almost 18 months from conception to completion but the doors opened July 2 and have been swinging with customers in and out since. They were extremely busy on opening day but, she said, the customers have come in almost a steady stream.

"As soon as one order goes out another comes in. That has given us the chance to adapt to the new stoves, fryers and the equipment," Denise said.

The county, they felt at the time, needed a seafood restaurant that was not fast food. While the restaurant is basically a seafood carry-out, they have an inviting seating area just off the small ordering counter where customers can wait until their order is ready or they may dine in.

"We wanted a space that was appealing while they waited. All of our food is cooked to order and we appreciate the patience our customers have shown since we opened," Denise said.

Each Monday and Friday a special will be on the menu. It could be, Denise said, shrimp, fish, oysters or any of the other items on the extensive menu.

"Customers who come in on Mondays and Fridays are in for a surprise treat at a reduced price," she said.

The couple knew that they wanted to own a business even before they married in 2000. Reginald had been in the transportation business, and had owned a long distance trucking company but that was not an option for the newlyweds. Denise had spent 17 years working at the Pensacola Street Publix deli as catering manager and cook and she also worked at the Department of Environmental Protection. She didn't, she said, want to give 30 years of her life to the state of Florida but wanted something of her own.

"I come from a family of cooks. My mom and my aunts all love to cook. I love to cook too and I'm good at it," she said.

Once they decided to go into the restaurant business it was time to find a site. Reginald said he looked at several places but all of them either needed too much work or were out of their price range.

Since closing its doors over 5 years ago, the China House take-out site sat vacant. Reginald saw potential in the building and although the only parts salvageable were the walls, they set out to renovate. They did a lot of the work themselves but costs began to mount.

"We realized that we needed some financial help. We were lucky to be in the Community Redevelopment Agency district and were able to access grant money to finish the renovations," he said.

The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and is closed on Sundays. The hours were long the first week but very gratifying.

"Your feet get tired and the hours seem long but when you hear a customer say the fish is the best they've ever eaten, it's all worth it," Reginald said.