“We opened Heroes downtown on November 6, 1998. It was big Kahunas and Hennessey’s before that. Heroes started with Wendell Quimby who has been amazing for Dauphin Street with the projects and renovations he has done. I was in my old haunt the Garage with my buddy Chip Deupree and we had been talking about opening a bar/restaurant for some time. Wendell tipped us off that the guys from Hennessey’s would listen to an offer. We pursued the conversation and that’s how we ended up here. Big Kahunas was my favorite place. When I drove back into Mobile from out of town, I stopped there before I went home. I wasn’t that into sports, but it was my hangout. When we took it over, the blueprint was to recreate what they had done. We even rehired some of the staff. Eventually, we went on a different path and became a sports-themed restaurant with a bigger emphasis on food.
I’m number seven out of eight kids. Many of my siblings and I developed some kind of culinary skills. I joke that my mom was running a restaurant for many decades, she just wasn’t getting paid. I love to cook, so I cooked a lot and threw big parties. I worked with food brokerage companies and had a background in retail and grocery store environments. I also put in some time on the customer side of the bar. About a year before we took on Heroes, I worked in advertising sales for a couple of radio stations, including 92 Zew and Oldies 106, and learned from my bar and restaurant accounts. But none of that is enough preparation for running your own restaurant. I mortgaged my home to open Heroes. The desire to not be homeless or move back home was a motivator to learn and succeed as fast as I could.
The daily blue plate specials at Heroes became popular so I used those to open Mama’s on Dauphin. I sold Mama’s because running two restaurants almost killed me and we were opening the outdoor seating at Heroes. When the building next to Veet’s later opened I thought of what restaurant the area needed instead of what running two restaurants did to me. I opened The Royal Scam in 2006. This time I found more great people who could help. Wendell later helped us find a location for our second Heroes in West Mobile and we opened in 2011.
2020 was off to a great start. Mardi Gras was good, the weather was accommodating, and we were thinking more about developing two new restaurants with different styles. Dreaming of restaurant concepts is the fun part, but COVID put that on the back burner. It also shut all three restaurants down when the spring weather was amazing and we would have been having record days. We had 88 employees with the three locations but we are now down to 25 at the two Heroes that are open five days a week. The Royal Scam hasn’t reopened because the hotel activity and downtown workforce hasn’t returned. I am concerned for my employees and want to bring them all back as soon as I can. I have two goals — to still be standing January 1, 2021, and to still be standing January 1, 2022.
My approach to life since March the 20th has been trying not to dwell on things that I can’t control. On March 20th, I typed ‘Built for this 3/20/20’ on a piece of paper and taped it on my wall. I am looking at this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset, personally and professionally. Whatever we’ve accomplished in the past is behind us. It can be depressing but I can only look ahead about how to compete in the coming years. There were underlying problems in the restaurant industry that have come out during this. It is time to fix those and become more efficient. Richard True and Jessica McGee run the operation and administration sides and have helped steer us through this. Just because we’ve done something for 21 years, doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it the same way. These are times to adapt. Evolve or dissolve.
The restaurant chains will be fine. I worry that we are going to lose some local restaurants owned by people who put their whole lives into their restaurants and started in their kitchens preparing their food. These are the restaurants that add character and interest to Mobile and we need to support them to keep them open. Osman’s and Via Emelia are gems. Their food is beautiful because they put their hearts into it.
I am an optimist and still love what I do. It felt so good to reopen after months away. When my employees say, ‘I’ve got to work tomorrow.’ I tell them, ‘You mean you get to work tomorrow.’ Years ago I had knee surgery and a full-length cast on the leg. It crushed my soul to not to have a hand in everything and work the same way. These restaurants and the people they bring in are the best parts of my life. My need for interaction is met at Heroes and the customers have become my friends. But the time at home is good for me. My old dog Winston loves spending time with me and during the shutdown I learned how to roll sushi.
There is a picture of me, Rob Holbert, Andy McDonald, John Thompson, and Rick Hirsch that Johnny Gwin brought in for the Uncle Henry Internet Show. Times are hard when Rob Holbert is your featured guest. I love that picture because that is my circle and we don’t get together enough. Partnerships and relationships that have come from Heroes and Mobile are too important to be one-sided. I’ve slowed down more to appreciate them. Through Wendell I met Bob Omainsky from Wintzell’s who became a mentor. People have gone the extra mile for me and I do what I can to make sure it is a two-way street.
My family has also been supportive. However, when someone tells my oldest brother, Paul, they were in Heroes, he tells them, ‘thanks for supporting Dave. Mom has grown accustomed to him not living at home.’ That is it. I am just trying not to move back home.”