By Lauren Sage Reinlie
Aug. 20, 2023
INLET BEACH – In 2016, restaurateurs Christy Spell and her father, Rick, took over George’s at Alys Beach and what is now LaCo in Seacrest Beach. Rick stayed in Memphis. Christy and her then-boyfriend Drew Terry moved to Inlet Beach, with nothing except the restaurants anchoring them to their new home.
It didn’t take long to find a new community at Shades Bar & Grill, a neighborhood sports bar that had been a longtime locals’ hangout. (It actually opened in a shack in Seaside in the mid-80s.)
“We got to know a lot of their staff members, and they are now friends of ours,” Christy said recently. When she and Terry were married a couple years later, they took the after-party to Shades following their reception. The place had become a big part of their lives.
Over the years, Spell Restaurant Group acquired a small empire of restaurants in the area, including Saltwater Grill in Panama City Beach, and La Crema Tapas & Chocolate and Edward’s in Rosemary Beach. So when the owners of Shades came to them a couple years ago and said they were looking to sell, Christy was thrilled. It was a dream come true and on April 1, Spell Restaurant Group officially took over the business.
“This is a huge honor that these guys approached us and entrusted us and that we were one of the first people they contacted when they got ready to pass it on,” Christy said. “I have big shoes to fill and want to make sure that we make them proud and continue on the great success that they’ve had.”
Not rocking the boat
Christy said she does not have plans for any significant changes anytime soon. Instead, she and her father are spending time listening to and learning from their staff members.
“We don’t want to come in and rock the boat and screw up the great thing that the prior owners have created,” she said. “We want to hear from our staff. What do they think they would like to try and see us do differently?”
The “thing” Christy doesn’t want to screw up is a beloved sports bar with high-quality food, a great family-friendly atmosphere, late-night eats and drink service (they are open until 1 a.m.), and a clientele of devoted regulars.
The menu features elevated items not typically considered pub grub.
For example, the steak hibachi is a New York strip with hibachi fried rice and yum yum sauce. The pan-seared redfish is served with a goat cheese grit cake, haricot verts, cherry tomatoes, red onions, and a béarnaise sauce. The creole fish and grits dish includes fried redfish, smoked gouda grits, barbecue beurre blanc, and micro pea tendrils.
Salad portions are oversized and come in four options, including Caesar and avocado and shrimp.
Of course, a patron sometimes does want some bar food with their beer and baseball. Shades has that, too, but with some delightful surprises, such as the spicy goat cheese burger, the meatless Beyond Burger, and the N.H.C. sandwich with Nashville-style hot chicken on a brioche bun.
Dozens of exciting beers are available on tap, and adult drink selections include creative cocktails and wine.
Over 20 screens feature sports throughout the year. Shades is a popular spot during college and NFL football season. Patio seating is available, with one television screen outdoors, as well. A small game and arcade room appeals to the kiddos.
In addition to all that, Christy knows from experience that the tight-knit staff keeps the place such a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
“Our team members, they’re not our workers,” she said. “They’re family to us.”
Shades Bar & Grill is located at 10952 E. Co. Hwy. 30A in Inlet Beach. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day. They do not accept reservations, but can be booked for private parties. For more information call 850-231-9410 or visit their website at shades30a.com.