Rob Stinson came to the Coast with a wealth of experience and talent in the restaurant business. He began as a bus boy and dishwasher, having always worked in restaurants. After graduation, he moved to New Orleans in order to pursue a career in the Culinary Arts. His original intention was to go to medical school. He came from a family of doctors and it was expected that he would follow in their footsteps. While attending Tulane University however, he discovered that he was on the wrong career path and would not be fulfilled in medicine. During college, Rob landed a job at the famous Broussard’s in the French Quarter. “New Orleans was the mecca for food, and that is how it all started. Working at Broussard’s changed the course of my life,” Rob said.
While in New Orleans, Rob was presented with opportunities that would make any Culinary Arts student green with envy. He was in his mid 20’s when he trained under Cordon Bleu Chef, Gerard Thabuis, who had served as the Chef for Charles DeGaulle in France. Rob was also trained under the tuteledge of renowned Creole Chef, Nathaniel Burton. “Chef Gerald recognized my passion and desire to learn everything I could and he knew how much I loved cooking. He was very hard on all the other students, but he and I became best friends,” Rob said. He traveled with Chef Thabuis to France and learned first hand about the beauty and elegance of French food, and the importance of presentation. Chef Burton taught Rob about Creole dishes, and how to achieve the robust, rich flavors that are synonymous with that style of cooking.
The next step in Stinson’s career was to enter the business of corporate development. He was the opening general manager of twenty five restaurants in the New Orleans market. “I was the corporate gun for hire. If you wanted to open a corporate chain restaurant, I was the man to see…and I really enjoyed the work. There is no better way to learn how to run your own business than through the corporate chain world,” Rob said. Corporate chains work on “absentee owners” so a manager must be highly skilled and proficient in all areas. Rob broadened his expertise in the Culinary Arts by traveling to Italy as well. He had the rare opportunity to work with a master chef there and honed his cooking skills even further. “This is what set the stage for Salute. I was so fortunate to be doing what I loved and was really good at, as well as having the support of many great people,” Rob said.
The first restaurant that Rob opened on the Coast was in Long Beach, it was the original Lookout. The Gulf Coast was completely foriegn to him. He moved to Mississippi from New Orleans specifically to take over a property that had failed miserably and needed a fresh new start. He was full of enthusiasm and great ideas but there were big problems that often seemed insurmountable. “Fish and Bones” had a very poor reputation, and the restaurant sat empty. “My mentor, Joe Jefferson, was concerned about the marketing aspects. Rebranding the old Fish and Bones was crucial to my success, and it was one of the worst challenges I have ever faced,” Rob said. It was a terrifying time and Rob spent many a sleepless night worrying about the decision he had made to take over the restaurant. When it seemed that all hope was lost, Rob devised a way to bring the customers in, and everything changed. “It was our VIP cards that turned everything around. We worked with the local churches and businesses and they distributed the cards for a very resonable fee. Customers would come in to use the VIP cards and once they came in, they always came back,” Rob said. As time went on, The Lookout became a favorite for Coast diners. It had a gorgeous view of the Gulf. The menu offered a wonderful array of foods with a distinctive cajun flair and people loved it. Rob decided that the next step would be to turn The Lookout into a steakhouse. He had developed a new promotion and had just filled a walk in freezer with the most beautiful steaks and prime beef. In addition, the restaurant had just been redesigned. Mother nature stepped in on August 28, 2005 with a totally different plan and left nothing standing but 7 broken pillars.
Moving forward, Stinson eventually reopened his beloved restaurant in a temporary location on Hwy 49, and called it “Lookout 49.” Today, a brand new Lookout Steakhouse, graces the corner of 13th Street in Downtown Gulfport. Check out this month’s Taste Buds to learn all about it! “Lookout Steakhouse was an opportunity to design something from the ground up and build historical significance. The original building was a bank built in 1903. The Salloum family purchased the building after the Depression and held on to it for many, many years. Rob and his partners were very fortunate that they were able to buy it, and they also partnered with the builder, Jack Krongard. Krongard did an extraordinary job of preserving the original character of the building; the historical brick and huge framed windows. “I designed it but Jack took the vision that I had and turned it into a tangible asset. Owning the property makes a huge difference, it made it possible for us to take things to a whole new level. Lookout Steakhouse will be a part of Downtown forever,” Rob said.
The second Coast restaurant that Rob put his name on is Salute. Opened in June of 08, it was a team effort with Mark Davis, who is the owner of the building that houses the Italian eatery, 15th Place on Hwy 90 in Gulfport. Davis specifically wanted an Italian restaurant on the property and he insisted on one tenant. Because of Katrina, no corporate chain was interested and at the time there was little to no traffic on the beach due to all the destruction. “It was a huge gamble, and we were not sure about it but the building was so beautiful. At that point and time I was not a lone businessman, I had a team that I was working with and they embraced the idea totally. Salute quickly became another local favorite because of the extensive menu and very reasonable prices. The food is authentic Italian, using the freshest ingredients. The ambiance is warm and cozy with impeccable service. The waitstaff employed by Rob Stinson at all of his restaurants are exceptionally friendly and welcoming. “I have an incredible team of people in the kitchen and at the front of the house. Many of them are now equity partners in different businesses that I have. If you pursue a career with me, you can actually become an owner…I am very proud of that,” Rob said.
Rob Stinson and his partners are very involved in the Gulf Coast community. This is a solid, lasting committment that everyone on the team is adamant about. They support many Coast organizations and charities including Make A Wish Foundation, The Heart Association, The Pink Heart Funds, Chefs of the Coast, Toast of the Coast, and many others. Rob relies on trusted partners and long time associates to assist him in all areas of his business interests. “ Denis Trochesset, began as a waiter in the early years and is now an owner in the parent company. Steve Huber and Joe Jefferson are two of my oldest friends, we have known one another for over 30 years. They tell you never go into business with your friends but I have proven that this is nonsense. Steve and Joe and I have never had argument or one problem between us. Deborah Williams, who was at Lookout 49, is now at Back Bay and is an equity partner. Cory Fazzio, who is the head chef over all the restaurants is also a part owner in all the restaurants, and Rachael Edwards at Salute actually owns the Bar. I could go on and on but those are just a few of the people who are so important to my team,” Rob said. Stinson is particularly proud of three young men that have been with him for ten years. They all worked for him at Long Beach Lookout. Each left for a time to go to college, but returned to the fold and are now managers. “These guys could have ventured out and gone anywhere, yet they all came back to us…it means a lot to me,” Rob said.
It is a very unusual scenario to have complete peace and harmony in a working restaurant kitchen…let alone in three separate restaurant kitchens under one parent company. Nevertheless, this is the work ethic at Salute, Back Bay, and Lookout Steakhouse. “I really believe that you lead by example and there is never any anger, cursing or flare ups. Each kitchen is in full view of the customers in the dining rooms. I designed each restaurant that way and every employee is a part of the team from the dishwashers on up. Every one of our restaurants are transparent. I will never tolerate anyone being disrespectful or mean to another person within the team or to our customers,” Rob said.
Salute, Lookout Steakhouse, and Back Bay will happily cater to your special dietary needs or requests. Everything is cooked to order, fresh and to your specifications. You will never be made to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed if you have any food concerns or need an adjustment to the menu, all you have to do is ask and they will do whatever they can to meet your needs. It may take some additional time for the preparation, but you can be assured whatever you order will be flavorful and delicious and made with extra special care. They are always gracious and nothing is ever a problem or inconvenience. That cannot be said for many other restaurants on the Coast. Often times the kitchen staff does not want to be bothered with the additional work or the time necessary to prepare special meals, even when a serious allergy is part of the equation – they just kindly refuse or say that it can’t be done. That will never happen at any of Rob Stinson’s restaurants.
Back Bay came about when the opportunity arose to take over a beautiful facility that needed a local flair. It has become one of the most popular spots on the Coast with the local crowd. The customers love the one menu for lunch and dinner, which is incredibly diverse. At Back Bay you can order everything from burgers to lobster. “Our price point is so affordable. We have people that dine with us as much as five times a week. It is not touristy, it is exactly the opposite…it’s a local hangout,” Rob said. To establish the new restaurant was a challenge because the previous business did not do well. It was reminiscent of when Rob took over Fish and Bones. “That seems to be our nature, taking over places that did not succeed and turning them into thriving businesses. Fish and Bones became the Lookout, the Lookout 49 used to be Morocco’s, and Tugs Warf is now Back Bay. Salute and Lookout Steakhouse were the only two restaurants that were brand new with nothing prior,” Rob said.
When you dine at any of these establishments you will thoroughly enjoy what you order and it will come at a fair price. You will leave feeling very full and satisfied, and more often than not, you will want to bring a “to go” box home. All portions are very generous. “We will never be the pretentious, over priced restaurant. We find great success in being able to diversify products which allows us to create great meals that the everyday person is able to afford,” Rob said. He does not advertise with commercials on television or radio, it is strictly word of mouth. He and his partners have attained great success at every restaurant because they are the talk of the town. If you dined there once, you will continue to go and if you have never been, it will only take one visit and you will be telling everyone you know about it! Rob does cooking segments on WLOX where he shares his mouth watering recipes, and for many years he hosted cooking shows that were broadcasted on a popular New Orleans station.
Another very ambitious project is on the drawing board for this Gulf Coast entreprenuer. Rob Stinson is hoping to host a PBS television show called “Healthy Cooking.” It will educate the public in the many ways of food preparation in the state of Mississippi. Most people have a preconcieved notion that everything we eat is fried, high fat and a precursor to heart disease and diabetes. “I want to show people that we are not limited to fried foods, and introduce the audience to another side of the Mississippi diet. I think it is a huge trend you see in every facet of the restaurant business – no perservatives, low fat, more vegetables and healthier choices cooked to maximize flavor and freshness with a beautiful presentation. I think it is a great direction for the state, to show America that we can do more than eat heavy, fattening foods,” Rob said. Although this project is still in the planning stages, it is important to note that Rob Stinson has been doing his utmost for the past five years to also educate the public about the fresh Gulf seafood that is safe to eat and so plentiful here. Rob is very eager to do the Healthy Cooking show on PBS but until it enters production, he will continue to showcase cooking with fresh Gulf seafood at every opportunity. “It looks like we are heading into one of the best seafood seasons we have ever seen,” he added.
Rob Stinson has also been in the catering business for ten years. He will now have the perfect venue for hosting large private parties, weddings and receptions. The Lookout Event Center sits high atop the Downtown restaurant, with a wonderful view of the harbor. It is beautifully appointed with a full service kitchen and bar, as well a lovely private dressing room. A grand opening celebration and fund raiser in honor of the Infinity Space Center will be announced soon. “Now we can host bigger events and have the opportunity to do so much more,” Rob said. The Event Coordinator for the Lookout Event Center is Callifornia native, Jean McGrury. She and Rob are looking forward to a long and rewarding partnership in this new business endeavor.
Rob and his wife, Paige, have been married for eighteen years. They have two teenage children, Samuel and Abigail. Paige is a nurse by profession but has become quite a chef in her own rite! She thoroughly enjoys working in the kitchen at Salute. Whenever they can get away, the family loves to travel together.