Our first mission was to whomp up grits for 2,000 people at a Jeb Bush political rally in the park next door to the Fish House. Collier recruited his good friend, Congressman Joe Scarborough and his band, Regular Joe, to be our house musicians. From then on we have hosted a great crew of entertainers, politicians, and pundits—as well as everyday folks—to our tables.

— circa 1998

Collier Merrill formed the Great Southern Restaurant Group of Pensacola, Inc. (Great Southern Restaurants), with his brothers, Will and Burney Merrill, and Chef Jim Shirley in 1998. The Fish House was the original restaurant. As our cuisine became widely known and the Fish House became a popular destination, they expanded into adjacent spaces and created Atlas Oyster House, which immediately became a popular hangout.

Hurricane Ivan, with its 12-foot storm surge, hit Pensacola September 2004. To the Merrill brothers and Shirley, it was important to get the restaurants up and running as soon as possible, not only so their large family of employees would have incomes, but so that folks in the community would have a familiar, serene place to join their family and friends and relax from the area-wide cleanup. Atlas, though severely damaged, was back in business in three days.

However, even though the building’s reinforced concrete structure was designed to withstand harsh seas, the Fish House, situated on the south end of building, got hit harder. Enough ancillary damage occurred so that the group saw an opportunity to build a more efficient kitchen with a better constructional arrangement for service and to change the decor to create an atmosphere more favorable to fine dining.

In 2007 the Fish House Deck Bar was born—an open deck with central bar, dining tables, bandstand, and dance floor—at a cost of $1,000,000. The 3,500-square-foot addendum complemented the existing upper-level 3,400-square-foot deck that the Fish House shares with Atlas Oyster House. The Deck Bar has become a great downtown venue for casual relaxation and live music.

In April 2008, the Merrills acquired the award-winning steakhouse, Jackson’s, one of Pensacola’s finest restaurants, with original owners Chef Irv Miller and General Manager Barry Phillips remaining as operating partners.

In 2015 the Merrills partnered with Fish House General Manager, Jean Pierre N’Dione to purchase Five Sisters Blues Cafe. The Five Sisters Blues Cafe is an homage to one man’s fondest memories of growing up in the American South, Cecil Johnson. Johnson started his career at sister restaurant, The Fish House, as a chef. It was here that he came up with the vision for what this new restaurant would be – an homage to The Five Sisters – his mother Jeannette and her sisters: Cora, Sara, Dorothy, and Margaret.

The Merrill Brothers, Quint and Rishy Studer, and Jean Pierre N’Dione have partnered to open Angelena’s Ristorante Italiano in historic downtown Pensacola. Authentic Italian cuisine meets its Gulf Coast roots in Executive Chef James Briscione’s inventive menu steeped in rustic culinary traditions. A wood-burning oven-turning out pizza, baked pasta, whole-roasted Gulf fish and more-will be the heart of the restaurant. All pastas will be made in-house by Chef Briscione and his team. Angelena’s is set to open April, 2019.

This combination of distinctively different destinations offers creative cuisine, Southern charm, and unrivaled hospitality to locals and visitors alike.

Over the years, the restaurants have won numerous awards, including the Independent News Best of the Coast and the Pensacola News Journal’s Best Seafood awards, several of Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon awards, Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, WSRE’s Best Entrée, among others, and Jackson’s is particularly distinguished by being securing the DiRoNA Award of Excellence.