Will the Destin diner rise again?: John Paul Somers sells iconic metallic building for 765K

The old Destin Diner, at the intersection of Airport Road and U.S. Hwy. 98, was recently purchased by a local developer that plans to restore the dinner into a fresh concept.

After sitting vacant since 2008, a local developer plans to breathe new life into the old Destin Diner.

“My desire is to restore the old grandeur of the Destin Diner,” said new owner Ryan Jumonville. “I want to restore the nostalgic feelings that came from eating there as a child.”

Located at the intersection of Airport Road and U.S. Hwy. 98, the iconic Destin Diner opened its doors in 1992 after the family of former State Sen. Charlie Clary built the breakfast hotspot. Jumonville purchased the property and the 2,367-square foot diner Oct. 10 for $765,000.

At one point, the diner was slated to become a 4,720-square foot, 140-seat Denny’s franchise, which was a step up from the original 85-seat eatery.

“After numerous delays, the franchisee decided not to move forward,” said John Paul Somers, broker at John Paul Somers and Company.

With the property changing hands, Somers said he expects to see the diner renovated, “back online” and serving food within the next three to six months. He is currently negotiating with potential operators for the diner, ranging from a Greek-influenced concept to classic American cuisine. Somers also negotiated the deal between Jumonville and the previous owner.

“When we are in those nostalgic type of places, retro environments, it makes you think about great parts of your past and great memories,” Somers said of the metallic eatery, which is straight out of the ‘50s diner era.

Jumonville made headlines in June when he acquired the old First Note Music Hall building, after the successful South Walton venue closed weeks earlier. Somers said the restaurant portion of the old First Note building has been leased to a restaurateur out of Perdido Key that plans to transform the space into a "South Beach" inspired lounge with an expansive wine collection, top notch cocktails and mouthwatering desserts. The upstairs space has been leased by a fitness operator.

The news about the old music hall and the sale of the Destin Diner property are just two examples of the recovery that is taking place in the commercial real estate scene, Somers told The Log. Looking around Destin, there are other projects slated to break ground soon, such as the BeachZone project at the 98 Palms Shopping Center and the Venue Emerald Coast luxury apartments along Commons Drive — not to mention the large-scale expansion of Destin Commons, which is currently under way along Hwy. 98.

Somers also has two “large” projects under contract in Destin. One being the old Club Overboard property and the other a $25 million, celebrity-backed entertainment venue along Commons Drive. Somers said he couldn’t release further details on those projects citing the contractual agreement.

“What I see with this recovery is very intriguing, because the layers of recovery are just starting to take effect,” Somers said. “It’s a slow building process, but it’s right on track.”

Since he is in the community seven-days-a-week, Somers told The Log that he has seen the “spillover” effect from the residential market into the commercial market firsthand, as investors and builders are moving quickly to “acquire dirt” to build on.

Based on the demand the market is currently showing, “it’s time to start building new product,” Somers said.

“In the commercial sector, there has been a ton of vacant space, but now that it’s being backfilled, there is a reduced amount of high quality vacant space available for retail and offices,” he said. “I think that we are going to see a rapid shortage of supply, thus creating more fuel for the market, whether it be residential or commercial.”