“I grew up in Mobile. In 1958, my friend Bobby McBride and I were in Point Clear at Jim Delaney’s house shucking oysters and drinking beer. I looked at a Life magazine and the cover was Alaska’s statehood. I knew I wanted to go. Bobby and I came to Alaska in January 1963. Bobby had just gotten out of the Army. I was a junior at Alabama and was tired of it. I won a 1963 F-85 Oldsmobile convertible in a raffle. I sold the car and that gave us traveling money. Hugh was a friend of Bobby’s. We drove out in his Corvair that broke down many times from Mobile to Anchorage, but we finally made it. McBride got a job with the Corps of Engineers. I was working on a king crab boat called the Unga. If I hadn’t been a golden gloves boxer in high school, I wouldn’t have survived it. Working on the crab boat was dangerous. The crabs were long. It was 25 degrees, the wind was blowing and the boat was rocking. It is the most dangerous fishing you can do and a lot of people die out there. I did it for six months. I came off a trip on the Unga and picked up my mail. I found out I had been drafted by President Johnson and had to leave. I spent two years in the Army infantry but was never sent to Vietnam.
After the Army, I came back to Mobile. I worked on an oil rig in Houma, Louisiana and got hooked on Cajun cooking. I went back to Mobile and worked for Chrysler Credit Corporation and then Chrysler Financial. I met and married Deanna. I got Chrysler to pay my way to Alaska and transfer me to Anchorage to manage a branch. As soon as we got here, I started looking for another way to make a living.
When I first came to Alaska with McBride, it was like coming home. I knew I wanted to come back. Deanna and I fell in love with Girdwood and built our house here, even though we didn’t know what we were doing. There were maybe 300 people living here and we grew up with this town. There was no place to buy a hamburger in Girdwood, so we found an abandoned building and opened the Girdwood Griddle. It did well enough to let me quit Chrysler. The Double Musky restaurant came up for sale. We bought it and expanded it. I enjoyed cooking and knew a little bit about it, but not enough for a restaurant. I read an article in a food and wine magazine about a hot new chef in New Orleans named Paul Prudhomme. I told him I bought a restaurant in Alaska and needed to learn how to cook. He invited me to come down and we did. We dropped our son’s at Deann’s mother’s house in Bogalusa. Paul had everyone call him Chef. He was a great teacher and many guys like me owe a debt of gratitude to him. He had a nice guy who cooked for him but had a cocaine problem. I brought him up here with me and I sent one of my cooks down to train with Chef. I brought up several other cooks from New Orleans.
We have had the Double Musky since 1979. There are so many good memories here. Almost everything on the walls is something people have brought to us. Ernest “Dutch” Morial was mayor of New Orleans for years. He said we were as good as any restaurant in New Orleans. He made Deanna and me honorary citizens and gave us a key to the city. He also sent us Bourbon and Royal street signs. Tom Cruise, Rebecca DeMogner, Prince Albert, and Pierce Brosnan have eaten here. We became friends with Robin Leach. The Food Network rated us as one of the ten best restaurants in the United States. My oldest son owns what has been rated as the best hamburger place in Alaska. My other son lives here and is in training to take over the Double Musky.
The first time I came to Alaska, the population was about 200.000. It is the end of the road. You can get all you want here. We had to put up a steel gate to keep the bears out, but had a bear in the building yesterday. We used to have grizzlies. We had a female who came around for about 15 years. Every two years, she would bring her yearlings here to send them off on their own. I called her Sally. She scared me occasionally when those teeth sharted clicking. She was a big sow weighing about 1,000 pounds.
I was a water skier in Mobile and loved to snow ski. I had to stop skiing two years ago. In 1996 I had a racehorse named Alyrob in the Kentucky Derby. I bought a racehorse in Seattle for $7-8000 and it turned out to be a good one. Owning race horses grew from there. I went to the Derby in 1996 and watched Alyrob run. We stood in the owner’s area and did the walk. He ran 7th. I rode horses growing up, but never raced them.
McBride is 79 and I am 78 and we are still friends. George Radcliffe has been my best friend since I was a kid. I was friends with Mike Bailey, Jim Ogden, Jimbo Meadors, and Winston Groom. Girls and my friendships with those guys are my favorite memories of Mobile and have been with me all these years. The Cortes were good friends, too. All of them stayed in touch and would come out to see us.
I have been blessed with this life. Deanna and I chased the dream and caught it. I can’t ask for anything more.