David Lauderdale

Last call at the island’s family room: How Jump & Phil’s story is just like Hilton Head’s

John Griffin: ‘I’ll miss the people the most’

John Griffin, owner of Jump & Phil's Bar and Grill on Hilton Head Island, talks about what he will miss most about the restaurant. Griffin is retiring from the restaurant business shortly after the first of the year.
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John Griffin, owner of Jump & Phil's Bar and Grill on Hilton Head Island, talks about what he will miss most about the restaurant. Griffin is retiring from the restaurant business shortly after the first of the year.

Hilton Head Island’s family room — a landmark known for the past 25 years as Jump & Phil’s Bar and Grill — will close forever Sept. 4, and with it goes a piece of the island’s heart.

The Jump & Phil’s story reveals the essence of Hilton Head. Regardless of what you’ve heard, the Hilton Head way is not really a careful plan, but a wing-and-a-prayer plan. Risky, entrepreneurial plans. And we may be surrounded by paradise, but we work like dogs.

It also shows that it takes a village to raise a good bar and grill.

The new owners, brothers John and Tom Mollica, will renovate, rebrand, re-vibe, and relaunch as Brother Shuckers Bar and Grill, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page.

They will host a Jump & Phil’s farewell party from 4 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 4.

On paper, Jump & Phil’s is a space in Reilley’s Plaza near Sea Pines Circle. It was opened as a dream on a shoestring by John “Jumpy” Griffin and the late Phil Henry. It was sold in 2016 to Lawrence and Lauren Powell, and now to the Mollicas.

But that’s not the whole story.

Jump and Phil had no intention to live on Hilton Head, much less devote their lives to the food and beverage industry. They were University of Georgia friends who came to the island for the summer in 1975. They were going to wait tables until they could get a real job, with coats and ties, in a real place.

They stayed. And they worked in a number of restaurants before landing at Reilley’s Bar and Grill, which itself at that time was a dream on a shoestring belonging to Tom and Diane Reilley with a house full of kids to feed.

Ten years later, when Jump and Phil said they had a chance to open their own place across the street in a space best known as a piano bar, Tom Reilley wished them well.

They had a loan from Bob Rice, whose marketing unleashed Gatorade on the world. Does this happen in a “real” town?

It cost more than they thought to get the place open on July 11, 1994. But Phil, who was always the idea man, insisted it had to have a moose head on the wall.

They put an ad for a moose in the Atlanta Constitution. That was the golden day that a man who called himself “doctor” had been longing for. Don’t move, he said. I’m coming with the moose. He said it would be $1,500 cash. He told them the only way to clean the moose’s eyes was with vodka.

Jump and Phil had vodka, but not $1,500 cash. So they got $100 for the moose from 15 people, and those people got to choose the winner of the Name The Moose Contest. They picked the snappy “Jump & Phil-Skins,” as in the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

Kathryn Wall gave it a better name. She is an accountant who retired to Hilton Head and discovered she is actually a mystery novelist, cranking out the Bay Tanner series.

Her characters Bay and Red like to hang out at Jump & Phil’s in the books. And on those pages, the moose was given its new name — Waldo.

Now Waldo is being raffled off by the new owners (“That’s right, The Moose is Loose,” they posted on Facebook). Half the proceeds will go to the Deep Well Project social services nonprofit on Hilton Head. Jumpy will be at the farewell party to draw the winning ticket.

Jumpy said this week that the closing is sad, but a part of life.

“It’s the end of an era,” he said. “I have memories of so many neat people. But things change, and that is good. I hope the new owners create their own memories, and I’m sure they will.”

Command post

You didn’t have to be a moose to make yourself at home at Jump & Phil’s.

Green Bay Packers fans watched the games sitting outside in the cold.

Gayle Wingo plotted the Hilton Head Celebrity Golf Tournament there.

Early planners for the Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival met there.

John Jakes, who lived on Hilton Head for 30 years writing books that sold millions of copies, had a book-signing there. Author John Maxim was a regular. Kathryn Wall had book launches there.

And for a long time, the inner workings of the Town of Hilton Head Island were hashed out there when U.S. Marine Corps Col. Chuck Hoelle strolled in at 1:30 p.m. with a lot of reading material in hand. They knew his order before he said a word: a Diet Coke with very little ice, a tuna melt and chicken Caesar salad with no croutons.

For 14 years, the “retired” Marine was deputy town manager. He held staff meetings at Jump & Phil’s, calling the corner table “my alternate CP.” That’s command post. Jumpy and Phil called it the “Top Gun Table.” A photo of Hoelle with his 1976 Top Gun graduating class hung on the wall. And on the menu was the “Top Gun Tuna Melt.”

Hoelle said he could get the pulse of average Hilton Head Islanders and tourists there by listening.

“The beauty of it was you had the entire spectrum there ... and they all got along,” he said.

Stars came in, like Elke Sommer, Packers star Jim Taylor, sizzling shortstop Ozzie Smith, UNC’s Roy Williams and NBA superstar Dr. J (Julius Erving).

Elizabeth Dole made a quick stop there when her husband, Bob Dole, was running for president.

Pro golfer Craig “The Walrus” Stadler showed up as regularly as an osprey after The Masters — on Friday night if he missed the cut, or Sunday night if he didn’t. He sat at the table by the fireplace and watched hockey.

Last call

Jump & Phil’s was the site for many celebrations of life. Friends would gather and pass around the microphone, and the people whose lives were being celebrated created the stories and laughs.

They saluted Beaufort and Hilton Head fishing legend Billy North, whose life story was told in the Jimmy Buffett song, “A Pirate Looks at 40,” his sister said.

They gathered for Robert “Big Bob” Frauhiger, who Jumpy said coined the term “Barmuda Triangle” for the nighttime hot spots at Reilley’s Plaza.

More than 200 people came on a Sunday afternoon to say goodbye to “Cowboy Bob” Coleman, a poet, woodworker, sailor, fisherman, musician, portrait artist, cook and shrimp boat striker who represented an era when everyone on Hilton Head knew each other. They worked hard. And they played hard, most fondly at the Golden Rose Park after everything else closed on Saturday night.

And the place was full to celebrate the life of Jump & Phil’s co-founder Phil Henry, who died young in 2015.

Phil can have the last word as we mark this passage of time without him.

He once sent me an email about the summer of 1975, when the unscripted life of Jump & Phil’s began.

“One big difference I see today that is different from then is that back then Walter Cronkite told us how bad our lives were at 6:30 pm. One time only,” Phil wrote.

“Today we get 24 hours of just how bad things are in our lives every day. Doom and gloom. We are all going broke, the country is at war, and people are getting hit on the head cooking steaks in the back yard. Think I will turn the tube off today and go offline for just a little while. Maybe things just aren’t that bad.”

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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