The employees and diners of Pompano Joe's Seafood House in Destin are in mourning after losing a long-time furry friend earlier this week.
PJ the cat passed away Monday, Oct. 1 due to kidney failure.
The tiger cat arrived at Pompano's 14 years ago as a kitten with his sister and quickly took to his new life. His sister died soon after, but PJ thrived. He made his home in the dry storage shed at the restaurant.
The life of an Emerald Coast restaurant cat is rewarding in many ways — he ate like a fat cat, dining on fresh seafood daily.
Employees say that PJ rarely missed the daily lineup for the shift change with the rest of the Pompano's crew. Nora Whoolery, a Pompano's employee for 13 years wrote on Facebook, “You'd see him running down the dunes to make it on time.”
The friendly feline was a pal not only to locals but to the thousands of tourists who met him during his 14 years of service acting as Pompano Joe's unofficial mascot.
"My boys and I got to meet PJ this summer. He was a cool cat," says Jack Gray of Nashville, Tenn., on Pompano Joe’s Facebook page.
He was quick to welcome everyone with his wet nose and sandpaper tongue that was perfect for kissing and lapping up gumbo. He was easily recognized by his signature kitty grin, missing tooth and all; he never hesitated to trade a smile for a belly rub or leftovers.
With a fierce independent streak, PJ preferred to be left to fend for himself — even during hurricanes. He found a safe spot to weather the storm and always found his way home to Pompano Joe’s. Although sometimes it took a while. The Northwest Florida Daily News and Walton Sun did a story on PJ after he briefly disappeared after one particular hurricane.
During Hurricane Katrina an employee decided the weather conditions would be too dangerous for PJ to be on his own.
“Our kitchen manager, who has been taking care of him since he was a baby, took him home to keep him safe during the storm. PJ tore up his curtains, furniture, everything. He wasn’t used to it, it wasn’t his home,” says Ryan Riley, a Pompano Joe’s employee since 2004.
It's obvious that PJ left paw prints on the hearts of the people of this community, especially his Pompano Joe’s family.
“'He was a stranger to none and a friend to all,” said Pompano Joe’s general manager Roy Moore.