Conservation with Lucy “Lulu” Buffett
By Apryl Chapman Thomas
When asked what three adjectives she would use to describe herself, Lucy Buffett did not hesitate as she answered with, “driven, high strung and very unpredictable.”
“I love life,” she adds. “I’m very enthusiastic about life.”
It’s those qualities that have led Jimmy Buffett’s little sister to establish herself as one of Alabama’s culinary ambassadors.
Her journey to this point began with Lulu’s Sunset Grill on Weeks Bay in Fairhope, Ala.
Returning home from Los Angeles to be closer to her aging parents, Buffett needed to get a job. Realizing she was either over-qualified or under-qualified for available positions, she decided to think outside of the box and open a restaurant. (It wasn’t too much of a jump to her, since had been a professional caterer and had a reputation for being a great cook and entertainer.) She describes Lulu’s Sunset Grill as a “high-class dive on the water, where you could enjoy a beer, cheeseburger or seafood.” Her menus were ready as well as the brand new kitchen.
But things didn’t go as planned.
She recalls how her first chef didn’t show up on the first day; and well, the customers, many on vacation, wanted southern style Gulf Coast seafood. With a few adjustments, the small seafood dive was managing well, but in the middle of the fourth year, the lease was up. It was time to make a decision. It was time to Buffett to move on and up.
And move up she did; and she packed up restaurant with her and loaded it on a barge to Gulf Shore where she opened the 500-seat Lulu’s at Homeport Marina
in Gulf Shores, Ala. Nearly 15 years later, Buffett is still in awe.
“To do what has been done in this amount of time is pretty phenomenal. It still has the heart and soul of the first Lulu’s, but just bigger.”
Items on the menu include Gulf Coast seafood staples and even a “cheeseburger in paradise,” a nod to her older brother. When it comes to the food, she says she is a true foodie and knows that fresh is best. She also points out that when you invest more in quality, it pays off all of the time.
“Personally, we go with fresh whenever we can,” she says. “The seafood served here is as local as possible. I have no use for frozen or imported fish. If it isn’t fresh, I just don’t use it.”
“We use the best meat, too. The hamburgers come from grass fed beef.”
She adds she does it right.
“I grew up with shipyard workers, who were highly driven hard workers. I know what it means to do things the right way.”
In addition to her restaurant, she is also published cookbook author, Crazy Sista Cooking: Cuisine and Conversation with Lucy Anne Buffett. She has embraced the fact that the Lulu brand is ever evolving, and is always aware of possible opportunities. She believes in maximizing those now as creating them for the next generation. Even though Buffett jokes she 59 years old and realized she’s been working for 39 years, she has shown any signs on slowing down. Not only is she working on her second book, but she’s bottled her Crazy Sista Honey Ale (“you either have one, are one or know one”; available at Lulu’s at Homepoint Marina gift shop) and recently opened Lucy B Goode
also in Gulf Shores, emphasizing small plate deep South cuisine.
Reflections on Alabama’s Gulf Coast
“I loved coming home,” says Buffett. “I never thought I would return for good. I loved visiting. I love the coast, the smell of salt air and the smell of the low tide. I love where I am from.”
She continues, “there is a mystique about living on the coast. It’s our dream to live on the water.”
“It’s a different vibe when you live near the water.”
She considers Alabama’s beaches to be the state’s (even region’s) best kept secret.
“They are the prettiest beaches anywhere, with their sugar white sand. There is the Gulf of Mexico with its warm water that makes great seafood. To me, the seafood from the Gulf tastes like the ocean.”
Keep up with the Lulu Buffet’s latest happenings and developments through her blog, Musings, at http://lucybuffett.com