Mobile was founded 300 years ago, and Wintzell’s roots grew up there starting 80 years ago. Its newest location might have just opened its doors in October a bit inland in Birmingham, but the restaurant still ships up fresh oysters and more three days a week to ensure the same taste the recipes have had in Mobile for decades—plus other Southern fare to go along with it. The new Wintzell’s in the former Freso location in Heights Village is serving up Gulf coast seafood every day 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Here’s what you should know about its history and menu offerings from franchisees Frank & Brandi Hall and opening manager Ron Jones.
What’s the back story on the Wintzell’s brand?
Frank: Wintzell’s started in Mobile 80 years ago. It started as a six-stool oyster bar and all they served was oysters, and then it grew. Bob and Buffy Donlon bought it in 1999 and immediately started an organization to help grow Wintzell’s. Now there are nine locations, and we run the location in Fultondale that opened about three years ago. We are working on one in Leeds too.
What’s your back story with Wintzell’s?
Frank: I started off as a server in college and so did Brandi, and we met there. Here we are married and have a few restaurants together. Ron opened the Guntersville restaurant and was the general manager there for over a decade.
Can you talk some about the new space in Cahaba Heights?
Frank: We really liked the area, demographics, traffic counts—all the things you get with Cahaba Heights and Vestavia Hills. This is a different style restaurant than our others. They are usually about 6,00 square feet, and this one is about 3,000. It’s cozy and seats about 90 people.
What should we order?
Ron: Wintzell’s is infamous for our chargrilled oysters. They are our No. 1-selling item. We also have award-winning gumbo with a recipe that’s been around a long time with shrimp and crab meat, topped with white rice. We have a Coastal Cobb Salad too with greens, egg, tomato, onion, bacon, cheese with fish and shrimp. It’s filling.
Frank: When I was serving tables, the things I always suggested were the raw oysters, the gumbo, the fried green tomatoes and the bread pudding. A lot of the menu has stayed the same. Our crab claws come in out of Bayou La Batre south of Mobile County. Our bacon-wrapped shrimp entrée has Gulf shrimp with a julienned jalapeno wrapped in bacon and grilled.
We also have hand-cut steaks and serve a 14-ounce ribeye. We are not just seafood, people realize we are good at cooking steaks too. We have a bread pudding, no raisins, served with a rum sauce.
We now have a happy hour with half priced raw oysters and half priced grilled oysters, and some appetizers and beer, wine and liquor specials. On tap we have all local craft beer and also the Fairhope Amber which is from down where we are from.
What are all these signs we see on the walls?
Brandi: The original owner J. Oliver Wintzell would write down little “bits of wisdom.” There are pictures of him up in here too. It was fun to hang the signs and not read them all. They are funny.
Ron: The founder’s brother was a pastor, so you could tell the difference between the two. They’d write them on napkins and tack them up there. A lot of visitors will stand around reading the signs. It was said we started with 5,000 signs, but who knows if that’s true. Each store averages about 1,500. Every now and then you might catch a double.
Frank: Most of the black and white pictures are duplicates from the original restaurant in Mobile, so we try to make it feel like it does in that location. (Wintzel’s owner) Buffy’s dad, Fred Davis, played football for Alabama and the Chicago Bears and Red Skins, so that’s his picture up here too.