Carpenters are busy putting the finishing touches on display cases and shelves. The tables and chairs are set to welcome hungry guests, and 60 TVs are waiting for the big game. Foley's newest …
Carpenters are busy putting the finishing touches on display cases and shelves.
The tables and chairs are set to welcome hungry guests, and 60 TVs are waiting for the big game.
Foley's newest restaurant is a brand based in Baldwin County. Baumhower's Victory Grille at Tanger Outlets opens its doors to the public Tuesday, Dec. 5.
Bob Baumhower is the man behind the brand and founder of Aloha Hospitality based in Loxley. Football fans will be familiar with his football career. The defensive tackle played for the University of Alabama under famed coach Paul "Bear" Bryant from 1973 to 1976. He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 1977 and shared the 1977 Defensive Rookie of the Year honor with teammate A. J. Duhe. He retired in 1987.
But how did Baumhower go from the gridiron to restaurants?
His first restaurant investment was in a restaurant called Bachelor's Three, which was Joe Namath's hospitality brand. Baumhower invested in the brand along with Alabama teammate Richard Todd. Bachelor's Three had locations in New York, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa that had closed. Baumhower, Todd and Namath all shared an agent who felt they should join forces for one last Bachelor's Three in Fort Lauderdale. It lasted a few years.
The road to opening his own restaurant began at lunch with Dolphin teammate Steve Towle. He took Baumhower to lunch at a restaurant called Wings and Things. In the late 1970s, chicken wings were not something featured on menus.
"I asked him what they serve there. He said chicken wings. Back then, nobody ate wings," Baumhower said. "There were no wing restaurants back then."
At first, Baumhower thought this might be a Kansas thing due to Towle's roots. Wings and Things was owned by Eddie Hauck who brought the chicken wing to Florida from his hometown of Buffalo, New York.
"The place was packed, and all these people are eating wings. What I walked into was a basket, just like you see now, of buffalo wings," Baumhower said. "What was funny was there were guys in suits with their ties thrown over their shoulders, blue-collar folks and women. I was blown away by the demographics of everybody there. I met Eddie, and we became buddies."
When asked if he had aspired to open a restaurant, Baumhower said no. He attributes the experience he had that day at Wings and Things to his venture into hospitality. He said it "hit me. It kind of slapped me." He thought wings would be the perfect student food due to their price point. Hauck gave him the use of the Wings and Things name and taught him the process.
Baumhower said he was the first person to bring chicken wings to the state of Alabama, but being the first isn't always easy.
"We opened in Tuscaloosa in the early 1980s. The first buffalo wing restaurant in the state. We had to give them away," he said. "No one would try the things. No one knew what they were."
After retiring from football in 1987, Baumhower and his future wife, Leslie, moved to Tuscaloosa to focus on the hospitality business. They worked to grow Wings and Things and were hands-on in the business. He was bussing tables, washing dishes and working the wing station every day. In the beginning, Leslie was a server.
That early experience helped them create their own processes and systems that have evolved over the years.
Eventually, they added a new concept called Wings and Whiskers, which sold chicken wings and catfish. It was also around this time that Aloha Hospitality started to take shape. Baumhower said Wings and Whiskers struggled because people thought it was a pet store.
But, much like he did on the field, he may get knocked down, but he always gets back up.
The brands and concepts have changed and evolved as the market demands. In 1992, Aloha opened the first sports theme concept in Alabama, called Wings Sports Grille, in Birmingham. A second location was added in Tuscaloosa, but as the concept expanded, the name changed to Baumhower's Restaurant. They opened nine locations across the state.
Baumhower and Aloha Hospitality have opened, changed or closed numerous concepts over the years. His first ventures in Orange Beach, Mango's and Calypso Joe's, were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. With Compleat Angler Seafood Grille and Bar at The Wharf, Baumhower experimented with a Caribbean theme. The fine dining experience of Mango's led to the brand's current fine dining restaurant, Dauphin's, at the top of the RSA Trustmark Building in Mobile. The brand also has a Cuban-inspired speakeasy, Las Floriditas, and three Wingfingers drive-through restaurants.
Baumhower and his wife have four children and live in Fairhope. Spencer is the oldest and is now president of Aloha Hospitality. He grew up working in the restaurants bussing tables and cooking, but after college he decided to join the business despite his dad encouraging him not to.
"It is unbelievable. It is such a gift, and I tell him all the time," Baumhower said. "We talk all the time. He is my neighbor. He is really good at what he does, and he loves people. He wants to see people do well, so we work really hard to develop our folks. We try to make our company a pathway to be able to grow."
According to Baumhower, Spencer is pushing the growth of Aloha Hospitality. Part of that plan is taking advantage of the rapid growth in Foley and the new restaurant's proximity to the Foley Sports Complex. They also see several markets in the state they would like to move into.
Baumhower's Victory Grille just opened its 10th location in Troy. The Foley location makes 11 and is the largest in the brand. The Tanger Outlet location in Foley will seat 250 diners and is bigger than any location by approximately 1,000 square feet.
It brings approximately 140 jobs to the area. The party room is ideal for sports teams visiting the Foley Sports Complex, and the TVs can be used for PowerPoint presentations or to show game film.
Spouses will no longer have to sit outside on a bench while the other shops at the outlets; they can head to Baumhower's Victory Grille and take in the game and enjoy a meal.
But, Baumhower's also caters to families.
"We got the sizzle. We got the TVs. We look like we are going after the hard-core sports fan, but we cater to families," Baumhower said. "Tuesday night is kid's night; children eat free. They (Tanger) felt like we would be a good match."
Tanger Outlets Foley agrees the restaurant is a good fit for the area.
"The addition of Baumhower's Victory Grille at Tanger Outlets Foley will not only tantalize taste buds but also serve as a catalyst for community engagement, fostering a positive and lively atmosphere at the center," Marketing Director Debra Brown said. "As we continue to curate a diverse and dynamic retail experience, this new dining destination will be a key ingredient in further elevating the appeal of our center."
Baumhower's Victory Grille brand prides itself on its culinary program, developing its team, using fresh, never-frozen chicken and doing everything from scratch. It is clear how much pride Baumhower and Spencer have in their team, restaurant and brand when speaking with them.
"People ask what made me want to get in (to the family business)," Spencer said. "Even if my last name wasn't Baumhower, I would want to come eat here myself. It is my type of place because I know how we treat the product, and I know what the product is."