HERNANDO BEACH — Yann Milcendeau, who’s owned 13 restaurants over the course of his life, is used to making things happen. So, when he ran into snags to add a couple of stories to his motel in Hernando Beach, putting a restaurant on the top floor, he found another way.
Milcendeau bought a house on at 4036 Shoal Line Blvd., just down the street from his Hernando Beach Motel, and spent six months converting it into the Silver Dolphin Restaurant. It opened in the summer and today is drawing large crowds.
Life is about working hard, staying focused and overcoming, said the native of Casablanca, Morocco. Milcendeau and his parents fled the North African kingdom in the early 1960s, when radicals were making life dangerous for the French people living there.
He went on to open more than a dozen restaurants, one of which he still owns in Maine. The Silver Dolphin was to be a departure from any other he’s owned, he said. The eatery serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, a full liquor bar and has seating for 150. There are private rooms, a lavish tropical waterside deck and garden for outdoor diners — complete with a dock with a fish food dispenser to feed the fish and turtles than gather there. Most unique is a throwback, old-Florida-style gift shop with everything from tropical coasters, key chains, sunset photos and postcards, to high-dollar elaborate fish carvings produced by local artists. There’s a “penny-candy” isle, though Milcendeau points out you can’t really buy candy for a penny anymore, so it’s priced by the pound. At the counter is a glass display case with rows of fudge in many flavors — hand-made on the premises.
It was a lot of work bringing the Silver Dolphin to life, said Milcendeau, whose kitchen at the restaurant is housed in a huge trailer on site because flood regulations would have required him to build an elevated kitchen two stories up.
“There’s always a way,” he said, adding that the response from the Hernando Beach community and tourists has been “really fantastic.”
“We’re seeing 20 to 30 new people here every day,” he said. “Everyone is telling everyone else about us and they just keep coming.”
Milcendeau said he’s received 31,000 likes online and only a couple of gripes—complaints that the restaurant was so crowded there was a long wait for a table.
“I can’t help that,” Milcendeau said. “Sometimes it’s really crowded.”
From pancakes and French toast in the morning, to a variety of burgers and sandwiches at lunch to steaks, chicken, pasta and seafood at dinner, the menu is ample.
“We only have the best fish and cuts,” said Milcendeau. “A lot of chain restaurants don’t have the quality; we make sure everything we serve is first rate.”
Milcendeau said the Silver Dolphin has helped make the Shoal Line strip, already known for its several restaurants and bars, an even more popular destination. He doesn’t see the other restaurants as competition, but “fellow businesses.”
“I support them and they support me; we’re all in this together” he said. “People come out here (to Hernando Beach) because of all we have out here; they come and hop from place to place and make a night out of it.”
It’s when they stop at the Silver Dolphin they realize there’s a large gift shop to wander through, he said.
“I wanted it to be like an old-time Florida gift shop,” Milcendeau said. “People eat and then they come in and look through the shop; there’s so much to see, they stay a long time looking around.”
Milcendeau said he loves Hernando Beach, and considers the Hernando Beach Motel, which he bought seven years ago, “the find of a lifetime.”
“I came here to retire,” he said. “But I was bored to death, so I got my real estate license and got back to work.”
Milcendeau has now opened the Captain’s House, which is an Airbnb business, and he continues to promote and run the motel, which is on a canal and is home port for several boaters who rent dock space there.
The Silver Dolphin’s canal is a brackish waterway with clear water and lots of fish and wildlife. It’s one of the reasons he was drawn to the location. The outdoor dining and bandstand area is popular on weekends, when there is live music. The water and protected woodlands on the opposite side “really makes you feel like you are a part of nature,” Milcendeau said.
Milcendeau describes the Silver Dolphin as a perfect balance for adults and families.
“You can come here and enjoy a margarita on the back deck or you can bring your kids and have ice cream,” he said. “It’s that kind of place.”