SoWal People: Billy McConnell On The Square
May 19, 2015 by Manny Chavez
Billy McConnell is the Operations Director for Jim Shirley Enterprises and is one of the busiest people in South Walton, overseeing the operation's restaurant and catering businesses for Great Southern Cafe, The Bay Restaurant, 45 Central Wine Bar, and 331 South. Billy resides in Seagrove Beach with his wife Nancy and his number one dog, Ruca.
The Energizer Bunny’s got nothing on you! What is your secret…do you take special vitamins or supplements to keep you going?
Billy: (laughs). I am very blessed to have Dr. Ed Varnadore taking care of me, more than anything, and during the past year or so he’s put me in the finest health I’ve ever been in…plus the fact that if I ever slow down too much I’ll never be able to catch up! My energy level is way up thanks to his regimen.
You seem to be a man who “wears many hats.” How many hats to do you have and do you have a favorite?
Billy: (laughs). Whew…I guess I do…my favorite hat is putting together a new restaurant. That’s the fun part of it…putting something together for the first time. We’ve got great people working with us and it’s pretty much a well-oiled machine we have going.
I meant “real hats” like you wear on your head!
Billy: (laughing)…Oh….I’ve probably got 15 or 20 now. That’s all…I have to wear hats because I’m kinda bald-headed! (He lifts up his current hat to back up his assertion). I have to protect this skull of mine!
In addition to all of your work with your restaurants, you are also a musician. What instruments do you play and when did you get started?
Billy: I guess I got started when I was about 6 playing drums. I played with several rock n’ roll bands and I changed over to playing guitar because by the time I finished up loading up all my drums, all the girls were gone! (laughs). You throw your guitar in a case and you’re ready to rock! So yes, I play the guitar, but started playing base when we took on another guitar player that was better than me. I LOVE playing base, it’s kinda second nature to me.
If your listening device would for some reason get stuck on one song, what would you want that song to be?
Billy: (laughs again)…That’s easy! It would be The Doobie Brothers’ “Dark-eyed Cajun Woman”…without a doubt! I got a million of them, but that’s my favorite.
You’ve seen Seaside literally grow from a sandlot to what it is today. Do you ever wish for the good ole days?
Billy: No…I love Seaside the way it is today. Watching it grow up is like watching a kid grow up...kinda hard to explain. When there was nothing here it was a great to be here, but it’s been fun watching it grow up.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Billy: (laughs). Ohhhh..There’s a bunch of them, but having so many employees, I just want them to do their job right. It makes everyone else’s work sooo much easier. Also, the gossip factor tends to get a little too heavy at times. “I didn’t hear a thing” seems to work for me!
What’s your favorite part of the day, and what are you doing at that time?
Billy: Ooooohhhh, man, I can give you that one in a heartbeat! My wife Nancy and I take the dog out every afternoon and we generally pack the cooler up and go sit in front of the Seaside Chapel and play with the dog and watch the sun drift over the steeple there. It’s the most inspirational part of my day. If I had a second thing, it would be opening the doors to this place (Great Southern Cafe) every morning. It kinda gets my day going and then culminates watching that sun go down. Shake the day off! (laughter).
What’s the last song you sang in the shower?
Billy: (laughter). “Take me to the River.” Here Billy sings…“I don’t know why I love you like I do, after all the things you’ve put me through” (more laughter and carrying on).
What’s your favorite SoWal restaurant and what item on the menu is your pick?
Billy: I have to say The Bay is my favorite restaurant because I’ve got the best “flavor” guys working there! Whatever they are featuring as their special for that day is the best. Second, I would have to go with Borago’s Grouper Nicoise.