“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 Great Southern Restaurants, with his brothers, Will and Burney Merrill in 1998. The Fish House was the original restaurant. As our cuisine became widely known and The Fish House became a popular destination, the brothers expanded into adjacent spaces and created Atlas Oyster House, which immediately became a popular hangout.
In 1998, there wasn’t much going on downtown. It had been all but abandoned. Lifelong Pensacolians Collier, Burney, and Will Merrill, themselves instinctively steeped in Southern traditions, saw the potential of our historic downtown waterfront and wanted to liven up this paradise for locals and visitors alike. The quest was to remind family, friends, and visitors what true Southern hospitality includes—enjoying a few drinks, gathering over a great meal, and listening to good music, all the while overlooking scenic Pensacola Bay. A Southern seafood joint? That would do the trick.
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 a great waterfront view, casual relaxation and live music.
In 2008, the Merrills acquired the award-winning, Jackson’s Restaurant, one of Pensacola’s flagship restaurants located in the heart of downtown Pensacola. They welcomed founding executive Chef Irv Miller into the Great Southern family becoming Jackson’s Steakhouse, featuring prime steaks, fresh Gulf coast catch and Chef Miller’s award-winning crab cakes
In 2015, the Merrills partnered with Fish House General Manager, Jean Pierre N’Dione to purchase Five Sisters Blues Café, located in the historic Belmont DeVilliers neighborhood. The Five Sisters Blues Café 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 sisters’ tradition carries on, serving up soul food and blues seven days a week.
The Merrill brothers and Jean Pierre N’Dione partnered again in 2019, to open Angelena’s Ristorante Italiano in the entertainment district of downtown Pensacola. Coastal 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, and more-are the heart of the restaurant. All pastas are housemade, a three-course pasta tasting is a menu highlight.
This combination of distinctively different destinations offers creative cuisine, Southern charm, and unrivaled hospitality to locals and visitors alike.
Over the past two decades, the restaurants have become cornerstones of Downtown Pensacola. Winning numerous awards and accolades, several of Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon awards, Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, among others, with Jackson’s Steakhouse particularly distinguished with the DiRoNA Award of Excellence.