La Cocina Stays Fresh and Spicy Under New Ownership
June 22, 2015 by Jill Tanner
Father and daughter team Rick and Christy Spell are the new faces behind La Cocina Mexican Grill and Bar. Hailing from Memphis, the dynamic duo ventured further south in search of a great restaurant to buy.
Keeping one foot in Tennessee, they remain owners of Brookhaven Pub and Grill in Memphis, but have added a little beach flavor as the owners of two of our favorite local restaurants - La Cocina in the Village of South Walton next door to Rosemary Beach, and George's at Alys Beach nearby.
Rick and Christy got lucky when they met George and Ann Hartley. The dynamic SoWal duo had built a culinary trifecta, but were ready to start downsizing, and wanted to hand off two of their successful establishments to the right folks. George and Ann are now concentrating on the reinvention of their beloved Seagrove Village Market Cafe.
“I love this place, the people, the fresh product - and we wanted to keep it as fresh as we found it,” Christy says with enthusiasm, standing alongside a table packed with delicious looking dishes and drinks for our photo shoot.
As the two have defined their roles, it's Christy who is the managing partner of the restaurants and father Rick is the investor. Along with Sandy Spell, mother and wife, they keep the venture all in the family. They purchased a house in Alys Beach and promptly settled in. With businesses in two states, they travel back and forth from SoWal to Memphis on a regular basis.
A great restaurant must have a great staff and La Cocina has the right mix. Burns Patterson is the General Manager and he clearly loves his job, and the eatery. “If you put out a good product, you can’t hide good food”, he says.
Burns has been with LaCocina since November of 2014, recruited by George Hartley. He has an extensive sales background and is very good with people. It doesn’t hurt that he is a former restaurateur who owned his own restaurant, along with his wife Nancy, in Montgomery, Alabama.
Danice Gomez is the bar manager and mixologist extraordinaire. She has been at La Cocina for three years. She lights up when she talks about hand-squeezed juices and how fresh all the ingredients are, and about her inventions such as the Caliente Margarita, which packs a punch and is best served with fresh pineapple. She also serves a fabulous Black Barrel Tequila Old Fashioned made from tequila aged in bourbon barrels. It sounds crazy, but it just works. They have a new bar menu with four delicious items exclusive to the bar area.
Danice says, “It’s nice to come to work in a place where everyone is genuinely happy and has a good time.”
Juan Cruz is the kitchen manager and his Vera Cruz, Mexico roots give him a leg up on authenticity. He has been at LaCocina for five years, working his way up from the bottom with determination and attention to quality and detail.
As to the food, all ingredients are fresh. Produce comes from local purveyors and farms in the area. Refried beans and all sauces are made in house. All of the meats are cooked on site. The brisket is a good example; it cooks over night and falls apart when ready. There is no such thing as picking the wrong dish at La Cocina.
Service is one of the most important aspects of a successful restaurant and La Cocina doesn’t miss a best here. It must be a requirement that every server is friendly, outgoing and happy, because everyone is always smiling and welcoming. All are attentive and make each customer feel special and right at home.
Because every aspect of this restaurant is in such good order, Christy says, “We would love to have a few more (restaurants) on 30A. It’s a great area to be in and we are constantly on the lookout for another spot or two.”
Let’s hope they bring their magic touch to other establishments in SoWal. Christy and Rick know the business and have a strong, positive background and outstanding track record.