Johnny Fisher, Owner

Hometown: Mobile, AL

“I’m guilty of having an unhealthy optimism,” says Fisher, who has opened or managed some of the most respected and heavily trafficked restaurants in the southeast, including two House of Blues locations, New Orleans and Orlando. Managing Lulu’s in Gulf Shores, with 4,000 covers a day, followed by opening The Gulf in Orange Beach, Fisher has honed his skills in customer service to the point where his work and life philosophies seamlessly transfer to staff management. “Everybody has their gift. Everybody. This industry attracts pirates— people looking for a second or third chance in life. And if I can help you find your gift, maybe I can be a bright start on the road map of your career.”

Johnny’s passion for the food service industry extends to every corner of Playa’s coastal chic and casual décor. “It really is more about the overall feeling that you have at the end of your meal. Everything was intentional and everything matters.”

And in case this is your first time visiting his Orange Beach jewel, understand this. Johnny’s not only confident you will fondly remember the experience, but also, “Tomorrow we’re gonna be better than we were yesterday.”

Bill Briand, Chef

Hometown: New Orleans, LA

As the first employee hired for Fisher’s, Bill docked in Orange Beach with a rich pedigree. The son of a Navy Captain, having trained with Emeril and Donald Link in New Orleans, Bill cut his teeth in some of the most decorated venues in NOLA.

“It’s funny because during high school, I did what most teenagers in New Orleans do. I worked in a restaurant. After high school, I started thinking about enrolling in culinary school, which of course would’ve cost money. My manager at the time said, ‘Don’t do that! You’ll get the best education of your life right here in this kitchen! For free!’ And he was right!”

Those outside the industry may be unfamiliar with the inner workings of a commercial kitchen. Knowing how to source, manage costs, hire talented people who can work together in a hot, tight environment— those are just some of the necessary components to being successful.

“This whole restaurant was built on the question ‘Why?’ Johnny is always asking, ‘Why do we do it this way?’ Bill says. “And based on that, I encourage my team to challenge me. If you’ve got a better idea for a sauce, bring it on! Everyone is encouraged to contribute.”

As a Top 20 James Beard Award nominee in 2016 & 2017, 2018, and 2019 Bill’s devotion to his team, his craft, and his gift for gastronomy show up on the plate.

“My philosophy is pretty simple. I try to cook everything like I’m cooking for my mom or my grandma because let’s be honest, you put more into it when cooking for your family.”

Sara Kavanaugh, GM & Sommelier

Hometown: Shreveport, LA

“Sara’s one of the best wine professionals in the country,” says Johnny. Hard to argue as she was nominated in the Top 20 by James Beard in 2013 & 2014 in the Best Wine Program in the United States category, and mentioned as one of the Top 100 Wine Programs in the country by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

“I started off cooking for a living,” Sara says. “Cypress Restaurant in Charleston, SC, was a wonderful experience, learning under Craig Dehil. Then I changed venues and duties, moving to the front of the house where I worked for Mickey Bakst and Rick Rubel at the Charleston Grill. An opportunity to attend a wine school in Koblenz, Germany, arose and I jumped at it. Fast forward to 2008, when the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans was looking for a General Manager. I was the GM and Sommelier there until 2015.”

A deeply experienced restaurant professional, upon her arrival in August 2016, Sara quickly found her comfort zone.

“Johnny’s integrity and beliefs are similar to mine. We spend a lot of time together talking about ideas and our vision. Authenticity is a favorite topic. When you walk in, everything from the server’s uniform, lighting, music level, and the way we speak to you is designed to create an authentic experience. And it’s genuine.”

The ever-evolving restaurant industry has seen one constant: Customer Service. No matter if your reservation was made from an APP or a phone call, consistency is key to maintaining quality.

“I’m always asking my staff, tell me about the last customer service experience you had. Whether it’s a restaurant or a bank, you’re spending money, so what was that experience like?”

Their answers help formulate the tiny touches that contribute to a Fisher’s and Playa’s dining experience. And then there’s the wine.

“The wine training is never ending. I taste as much as I can, and read about wine on a daily basis. I’m very fortunate to work in an atmosphere that encourages learning. Hopefully, my wine selection and pairing training shines through during your meal.”