The father of the Back Porch passes on
Those who knew Henry Hammond Cobb, Jr., describe him using a lengthy laundry list of adjectives — dependable, tough and hard-working, to name a few. But to those who knew him best — his family, including his three children and eight grandchildren — he was lovingly known as grandpa.
Leaving a legacy behind, not only in his hometowns of Destin and Birmingham, Cobb passed away at the age of 92 on Feb. 7, 2013. Cobb is well-known along the beaches of Northwest Florida and lower Alabama as one of the hard-working, business-minded men behind the Southern Restaurant Group in Destin.
After 32 years selling insurance, Cobb retired from New York Life Insurance Company in 1978. Cobb and his wife Alice relocated to the Emerald Coast, where he'd spent so many of his childhood summers. At the time of Alice’s passing in 2008, the couple had been married for more than 60 years.
John Comer, Cobb's grandson, reflects on a childhood vacation his grandfather shared with him many years ago.
"During the ‘20s or '30s, before the Marler Bridge was built, they would swim across from Fort Walton Beach to Destin," said Comer.
Comer is president and CEO of the company Cobb and his business partner Robert Bonezzi co-founded, The Destin Development Company. Bonezzi and Cobb began their partnership with the acquisition of Nightown in 1979. Comer told The Log that his grandfather was a bit wary about getting into the restaurant business — but he obliged, and the duo took over The Back Porch.
Cobb was swayed to get into the restaurant business by the prospect of a mouth-watering menu item.
“He loved char-grilled amberjack,” Comer said. “At the time, amberjack was kind of considered garbage fish, but he loved it.”
Putting the dish on the menu fared well for the company, and it’s still one of the most popular dishes on the menu at The Back Porch.
After Cobb and Bonezzi parted ways, the company's name was changed in 1998 to Cobb Investment Company, Inc., and eventually to Southern Restaurant Group. After buying
The Back Porch, the company expanded, buying four more restaurants in Destin: Fisherman’s Wharf, The Crab Trap, Pompano Joe’s and Louisiana Lagniappe.
Comer told The Log that his grandfather started more than 70 companies throughout his 92 years of life, including chemical companies, wood companies and restaurants.
And, unfortunately, according to Comer, some of companies didn’t fare as well as Southern Restaurant Group.
"He didn't sweat the small stuff," said Comer. "If something went wrong and he failed, he would just move on, like 'let's go to lunch.'"
He added that, in his opinion, given his grandfather's background — growing up during the Depression and his nearly half-century in the military — made his grandfather the buoyant, strong man he knew.
Born on Oct. 8, 1920, Cobb was destined for greatness from the beginning. He attended the prestigious Princeton University, graduating with a degree in economics in 1943.
Cobb, along with the rest of his class at Princeton, graduated a semester early due to World War II — making the class of '43 known as the "war class."
After graduation, Cobb, like many young men during the '40s, joined the military. Cobb was assigned to the 42nd Field Artillery Battalion, 4th Infantry Division in the European Theatre of Operations where he served as a forward observer.
Cobb's military career spanned more than 40 years, three wars, three continents, multiple promotions and countless service awards. Among those medals awarded to Cobb were three Purple Hearts, a World War II Victory Medal, a Korean Service Medal and a Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism. He retired from the service in 1983 as a Major General and had also been appointed Adjutant General of Alabama.
Cobb was also instrumental in the fight for Civil Rights in a segregated 1960's America. While with the Alabama Army National Guard, Cobb acted as a guard for Vivian Malone during desegregation at the University of Alabama, now known as the "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door."
Mary Lou Cowgill, a family friend, vice-president and CFO of Southern Restaurant Group, said that Cobb, even at more than 90-years-old, was still talking about expanding the business. Comer added that, even though he "retired" before moving to Destin, "golf didn't suit him. He started these companies in his spare time."
Major General Cobb, veteran, businessman, father, grandfather and friend lived his life by one motto, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do."