‘A full-service dining experience’: Local pizzeria renovates and adds service

Savannah Vasquez
Merlin’s Pizza owner Rick Johnson says he hopes to expand the Merlin’s brand to add more locations in the near future, but wants to take it slow and steady. “I’m going to take my time and do it right, and not rush,” he said.

Merlin’s Pizza is a Destin staple. For the past 15 years the local pizzeria has been serving it’s pizza pie, pasta, salad and wings to locals and tourists alike. After opening in March of 1999, it didn’t take long for Merlin’s to gain a local following as a sponsor for the city’s little league sports, and tourists began to frequent the restaurant for it’s convenient lunch offering of pizza-by-the-slice. But now, the restaurant, always known for it’s eclectic local flare, has outgrown it’s small to-go style format, and this month has closed for renovations to make way for expansion.

“We’re looking to make this a full-service dining experience,” said owner Rick Johnson. “We are bringing in servers for dinner and we want to make it more of a restaurant-style place to eat than the cafeteria-style atmosphere we had before.”

Although the restaurant is not adding square footage, Johnson said the kitchen will be expanded and the dining room rearranged to make room for added tables. The real addition to the restaurant is the serving staff, as  Johnson said he is both eager and nervous to delve into the full-service atmosphere.

“It’s new for me,” he said. “This is the first restaurant I’ll be doing with full table service. I’m excited, it’s going to be kind of like opening a new store.”

The renovation will see new tables and refurbished booth seating added to accommodate 36 diners at a time.

 “It feels like we’re expanding,” said Johnson. “Customers have been asking for a long time because they wanted to have parties and we weren’t conducive to parties, but now we will be able to have sports teams and groups and give a better dining experience.”

As for the décor, Johnson explained that he plans to keep the restaurant’s local theme, but wants to give it a fresh Destin beach feel.

“I like keeping it fresh, not so mundane,” he said. “So where before we had ugly black and white tile, we will now be adding an aged wood floor to give it that look like you’re on the beach. When we’re done it should be looking like a porch and you are sitting and looking over the water.”

Johnson also said he is looking to hang up black and white photos of the Destin of yesteryear.

“We’d love to have old photos of the bridge and the docks,” he said. “I’d certainly trade pizza for a copy of someone’s old photos. We’re trying to keep it looking local and give it that old-town look.”

Renovations are set to finish by early February with a soft opening at the restaurant located at 1251 Airport Road to usher in the new look and service aspect. The grand re-opening will be advertised by roadside banner by early March. For more information visit or call 650-3000.