COCOA VILLAGE, Fla. – A week into the soft opening of Tin Whiskey Southern Kitchen & Still in Cocoa Village, and owner Stevie Whittaker still feels dazed.
“Honestly, I think we’ve waited so long, it hasn’t sunk in yet,” she said to News 6 partners Florida Today.
The wait to which she refers is almost two years of renovation on the former home of Norman’s Raw Bar & Grill on Forrest Avenue.
Whittaker closed Murdock’s Southern Bistro, a restaurant and bar at the south end of Cocoa Village that she owned for 20 years when her lease was up in June. She purchased the Norman’s property in March 2020 after a February eviction threat.
She hoped to open the new place by fall of 2020, then fall of 2021. Supply chain issues and labor shortages, along with construction delays, meant the project dragged out longer than expected.
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“Right when we were putting up the tongue and groove in the ceiling outside, that’s when the price of wood went sky high,” she said. “Then we waited forever for the pizza oven.”
The result of all that work is a space unrecognizable from what it was before, with expansive covered outdoor areas and rustic inside dining rooms decorated in wood and copper tones.
Craft beer taps, including one pouring Tin Whiskey Blonde Ale, made a couple of blocks over at Bugnutty Brewing Co., are affixed to a copper still. That, and the tin roof, inspired the restaurant’s name.
A brick fireplace, one of the remaining throwbacks from Norman’s, anchors the main dining room.
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Another throwback that predated Norman’s, which opened in 1969, was discovered as workers dug into the area surrounding the building. They found horseshoes and other rusted metal artifacts from a blacksmith shop located on that block more than 100 years ago.
Some of the items will be displayed in Tin Whiskey’s front room.
As they got closer to opening night, Whittaker said she had nightmares about no one showing up. She needn’t have worried.
The restaurant filled up on Jan. 20, its first night in business. That was Thursday.
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“Then all of a sudden Friday came,” she said. “If we beat that number at Murdock’s, I don’t remember it.”
“That number” is the money brought in for a single night. The wait list was three hours long, and people were four deep at the bar waiting to order.
There’s been a wait for a table every night since.
For now, Tin Whiskey is open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. It’s closed on Mondays to give the staff time to recover.
Eventually, she plans to open for lunch and on Mondays, but she wants to get new hires fully trained and everyone familiar with the new equipment and surroundings.
Murdock’s had 24 employees; all but one are working at Tin Whiskey. Whittaker was able to continue paying them for the six months between closing Murdock’s and opening the new restaurant.
Having those experienced, familiar people working — especially general manager Joel Robberts and front-of-house and bar manager Emilia Posanti — has kept things running smoothly. Whittaker said she’s proud of how they’ve handled the crowds, and there haven’t been many complaints, even with the long wait times.
Tin Whiskey has more than 50 employees. It’s a much bigger place, seating 219 compared to Murdock’s 99, and 144 of those seats are outside. That’s partly because the outdoor space was available, but also because of COVID-19.
Whittaker knew pandemic diners wanted to be outside, even in the boiling heat of Space Coast summers. When the city put in new curbing in front of the restaurant, making it difficult to access the parking spaces there, she reworked renovation plans to include expanded patios.
There are stages inside and out, and eventually, entertainment will be added, but that too will have to wait until the crowds ease up.
The menu is basically the same as what was offered at Murdock’s, with lots of burgers, sandwiches, cheesy jalapeño grits and flatbread pizzas. A few items have been removed, such as the bone-in fried chicken and the tacos. Whittaker said that is because they needed to streamline some offerings to make the kitchen run more smoothly.
After 20 years at the south end of Cocoa Village, Whittaker still is getting used to the new place. It is bordered by busy King Street (State Road 520) and Forrest Avenue, which has significantly more traffic than Brevard Avenue in front of the Murdock’s building.
“It’s still a little weird,” she said. “My car just wants to go to Murdock’s. But I like it up here. It’s fun to watch the world go by.”
Tin Whiskey Southern Still & Kitchen is at 3 Forrest Ave., Cocoa Village. Call 321-633-0600 or visit tinwhiskey.com or facebook.com/tinwhiskey. Hours are 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday. There is street parking on Florida Avenue and Oleander Street, and a city parking lot is less than a block away. For those who want closer parking, the Elks Lodge across the street offers parking for $5.