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The Taste of Old Destin: The Back Porch Seafood and Oyster House celebrates 40 years

Savannah Chastain
The Back Porch, shown in this photo dated 1975, was one of Destin’s first seafood dives. 
“Server uniforms were bathing suits with sarong wraps,” said President of Southern Restaurant Group, John Comer. “We always tried to keep it casual.” Today diners are still welcome with or without shirts or shoes.

For John Comer, The Back Porch Seafood and Oyster House is more than a restaurant; it holds his childhood memories. Comer, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., used to summer in Destin every year, and said working at his grandfather’s restaurant, was the highlight of his summer.

 “I remember coming here as a little kid, all the food was served in baskets then, and there were not many restaurants in Destin at all,” he said. “Just the fact that I got to have a job working on the beach was fun.”

The Back Porch first opened in 1974, but was acquired by Comer’s grandfather, General Henry Cobb Jr. and his business partner, Bob Bonezzi in 1983. This year, the restaurant is celebrating its 40-year anniversary, and to celebrate the milestone, Comer sat down with General Manager Trey Horton and The Log to reminisce the early days.

“Over the past 40 years, it’s been a lot of memories made for a lot of people,” said Horton, who began working for the restaurant in 1985. “I worked nights only, shucking oysters because I had a day job in the boat yard,” he said. “I thought, ‘this job is fantastic, a social kind of thing.’”

Horton told The Log that he didn’t plan on making the job a career, but after the first summer he was offered a position in the kitchen, and has now worked his was up to management.

One of the aspects that makes The Back Porch distinctly Destin, is its fresh Gulf seafood cuisine.

 “We were the first restaurant to serve Amberjack,” said Comer adding that in the early ‘80s, Amberjack was seen as an undesirable ‘trash fish.’

“Granddad first tried it at the seafood festival a few years after opening, and now it’s our signature fish,” Comer said.

“That was the only fish we served back then,” Horton said. “We also served frog legs.”

Originally a two-story a-framed building on stilts, The Back Porch has seen a lot of change in its four decades. The top floor, once functioning as the owner’s living space, is now a dining area and bar, and the original kitchen space is now where the gift shop is housed.

“When they opened the new highway up there, now this is kind of a dead end,” said Horton, referring to the relocation of U.S. Hwy 98 from the street the restaurant faced, to a street above it. “I kind of like not being on the main highway anymore though — now you can come down here to relax.”

Today, the restaurant is able to accommodate up to 500 diners, and features three bars, including one right on the beach.

“The challenge over the years, since we’ve more than doubled in size, has been the supply of fresh seafood to feed everybody,” said Horton. “Destin is not a commercial fishing town, it’s a charter fishing town, and we’ve had to branch off to make sure we always have enough fresh seafood from the Gulf.” 

But the biggest and best change, Comer told The Log, has been the continual increase in customers.

“We are in our 40th year, and each year is more successful than the last,” said Comer. “Our business just continues to grow.”

“We recognize it would be very hard to survive during the off season without faithful, local followers,” said Horton. “We are one of the few places where locals can still come to the beach, and if you have lunch with us or not, we like to think this is the place where you can come.”

The Back Porch is located at 1740 Scenic Highway 98. For more information, visit them on the web at www.theback-porch.com or call 837-2022.