May 2011

KINGFISHER: NEW AND IMPROVED - Bringing back the Locals

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. | Photographer: John Brackett

Hey, Locals. Have you had dinner at Kingfisher lately?

What’s that? You can’t recall?

It’s that place in Shelter Cove. The one with the great harbor views, over to the right of the King Neptune statue as you drive in.

Yeah, that’s the one. It’s been around for some 20 years, but you haven’t been there in a while, have you?

It’s okay. We can talk about it here. The Kingfisher folks know why you left. So they made some changes, keeping the stuff that worked and transforming what didn’t. And they can’t wait to show you.

It started with some fresh blood on the management team. Enter assistant manager Bonnie Hagins last October, to complement the skills and experience of 19-year veteran general manger Greg Vittetoe. The goal: bring back the locals.

“When I came on board, the first thing I said is, ‘Your image needs a rework,’” Hagins said. “You can remodel, slap new paint on the walls all you want, but if you don’t really change things to change the image—especially in the minds of the locals—then it’s not going to do us any good. I told them that the missing market is the locals, because they had turned on us over the years. So that’s been our focus.”

The first order of business was a facelift of the building. After 20 years, Kingfisher was looking a little…well…old. “The décor was completely outdated. I walked in here and thought it looked like a 1970s golf clubhouse,” Hagins said.

The new Kingfisher sports a lighter, brighter Mediterranean ambiance, improving the restaurant’s relationship to its waterfront location. New carpeting and freshly painted walls help to update the overall appearance, and hand painted Tuscan murals finish the Mediterranean flavor.

Speaking of flavor, if you’re trying to win back customers, all the Mediterranean ambiance in the world isn’t going to do a thing for you if the food isn’t up to their standards. “People complained about the food, saying it was just okay at best,” Hagins said.

The job of creating a new menu fell to executive chef Jonathan Hagins, who joined his wife Bonnie at Kingfisher last November. Jonathan’s background includes the Culinary Institute of America, Kiawah Island Resort, The Cloisters in Sea Island, Ga., Hilton Head’s own Antonio’s, and a fine dining tapas concept that he established in Charleston.

“The whole reason that he’s been brought on board is to take mediocre food and make it exceptional,” Hagins said.

The result is a very competitively priced menu that ranges from simple tastes like fish ’n’ chips and fried shrimp, scallops and oysters, to some more creative exhibitions of the Chef’s skills—among them, Tilapia Crab au Gratin, Tuna Nicoise, and signature dish, Andouille Encrusted Grouper.

I had planned to describe some of these dishes in this paragraph, but I fear for your safety…you might start eating the page. May I recommend a trip to Kingfisher to try them first hand?

While Bonnie and Jonathan Hagins were brought in to help Vittetoe shake things up and re-energize the restaurant, the fact that Kingfisher has been around so long tells you that something had to be working right. A major component of Kingfisher’s attraction has always been, and will always be, its beautiful views of Shelter Cove Harbour.

“The only thing that remains the same is the view, the location, and the fact that we have live entertainment (including the legendary Joseph the Magician) five nights a week,” Hagins said. “These are the only things that have remained constant. Everything else has changed.”

Executive Chef Jonathan Hagins

Apparently for the better, as Hagins has noticed. “The locals are finally coming back in, and they’ve been really happy. That’s been our goal—to target the locals and get them back in here.”

More local-centric changes in plans for the near future include changes to the outside deck. “We’re going to put an Island Oasis machine out there so you can enjoy a cool drink outside,” Hagins said.

In the fall, when the tourist traffic has died down, Hagins plans to implement promotions aimed at making Kingfisher a favorite destination for locals during the off-season. “We’re going to have a Locals Night with discounts on wine and a special locals menu at the bar,” she said. Oyster roasts are also on the horizon at Kingfisher for the fall and winter months. Hey, this is Hilton Head, after all.

Hagins is confident that Hilton Head locals will again embrace Kingfisher as they once did. “Between me, Jonathan and Greg we have over 80 combined years of restaurant experience. I think we can make this happen,” she said. The management team also credits the Stephenson family (who own the restaurant and run it remotely from Arizona) for their commitment to excellence and their willingness to embrace change.

In fact, Hagins offers you this challenge:

“The old Kingfisher is no more. Our goal is to make sure that we are one of the best, if not the best, seafood restaurant on this island. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be.

“Give us another shot. We’ll WOW you!”

Kingfisher Seafood, Pasta & Steak House is located at 18 Harbourside Lane, Shelter Cove Harbour, Hilton Head Island. For reservations or more information, call (843) 785-4442 or visit

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