Wintzell’s opening now looks promising

Published 2:23 pm Thursday, March 14, 2013

Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon may have good news for area seafood lovers.

On Thursday McLendon told the Rotary Club of Greenville that he had spoken with officials from Wintzell’s Oyster House and that the prospect of the company opening a restaurant in the Camellia City looks promising.

“I feel better about it than I ever have,” McLendon said.

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In December of 2011, city officials announced that Wintzell’s Oyster House planned to open a restaurant in Greenville, and that the restaurant would likely be open by the summer of 2012 in order to capitalize on the beach traffic along Interstate 65.

But more than a year since the announcement, the lot along Interstate Drive remains vacant.

Last month, McLendon said that the lack of local investors had slowed the process.

In July, Bob Donlon, Wintzell’s Oyster House CEO, said he hoped to recruit local investors for a new entity that will own 50 percent of the restaurant. Donlon’s Mobile-based company will retain 50 percent of the ownership.

Despite the difficulty in finding local investors Donlon says he is committed to opening a restaurant in the Camellia City.

‘The Mayor, the council and the people of Greenville have gone out of their way to keep the pressure on us to come to Greenville, and that’s exciting,” Donlon said. “We want to come to Greenville, and we made a commitment to do that last April when we purchased the lot (along Interstate Drive.)”

Donlon is hopeful that construction on the restaurant will begin in June and be completed by September.

“I was able to find a developer and will be signing a letter of intent with that company to build the restaurant for Wintzell’s,” Donlon said on Friday. “We’ll be able to release more details about that deal in a couple of weeks, but that’s a major hurdle that we’ve cleared.”

Donlon did say however that the construction of the restaurant is contingent on the restructuring of the intersection at the entrance of Interstate Drive. The City of Greenville has also agreed to widen Interstate Drive to give the restaurant more room for its building and parking.

“Right now the parcel is not big enough to construct the restaurant, but I spoke with the Mayor this week and he assured me that all the roadwork that needs to be done for us to build will be taken care of,” Donlon said. “Unless something unforeseen happens, we should be able to start construction by about the first of June.”

McLendon said he views the deal much like an engagement.

“It’s like two people who have agreed to get married, but haven’t made it to the altar yet,” he said. “Wintzell’s wants to come to Greenville and we want them to come.”

Donlon plans to locate Wintzell’s along Interstate Drive across from the Interstate Plaza shopping center. The Timberland Log Homes building is currently located on the property. That building will be removed to make room for the restaurant.

According to Donlon, Wintzell’s Oyster House would likely employ 125 workers at its Greenville restaurant.

“We’re excited. It’s been a year now since we started this. I guess it’s true that time flies when you’re having fun,” Donlon said with a laugh. “It looks like things are finally falling in place.”

Wintzell’s, which was founded in 1938 by J. Oliver Wintzell, has locations throughout Alabama and Florida. The eatery is know for fresh Gulf seafood, and was named in Willard Scott’s All-American Cookbook for the best oysters and crabs.