By Kelly Baughman
You may not recognize Ginny and Lane Gilbert, but put their names together and it will surely ring a bell to locals and visitors alike. Owners of the iconic Ginny Lane, Villagio, and the newly opened Yoho Rum & Tacos all located in The Wharf in Orange Beach, the couple is not only succeeding in the restaurant business but in family life on the coast as well.
Lane, originally from the D.C. area, and Ginny, originally from Mississippi, met while working in the restaurant industry in Birmingham, Alabama. “I was using her degree in hotel and restaurant management and Lane was working on a business degree. We had a mutual friend who introduced us and the rest is history,” Ginny said.
Ginny went on to pursue a Master’s in Education, and the couple made the leap to move closer to the beach. The couple settled in and Ginny took a teaching job at Elberta Elementary School while Lane went back to the restaurant industry. “I was working Monday through Friday, and Lane was working nights and weekends. We didn’t really get to see each other much, and when I got pregnant with our first child I knew we needed a change,” Ginny said.
The pair took advantage of the newly opened Wharf in Orange Beach and opened Ginny Lane (a play on the Beatles hit Penny Lane) in 2005. “It was scary and definitely a leap of faith for the two of us. We opened in August which is the end of the tourist season, so it wasn’t the best time to open but we made it work somehow….barely,” she said.
By their second year, Ginny Lane was a smashing success. Shortly thereafter, they made the leap once again and opened Villagio.
The Villagio Grille is an upscale Italian Fusion restaurant that Ginny said is “something a little different” than most restaurants offer with prime cuts of meat, fresh fish chosen daily, and an extensive wine selection.
Ginny said that the concept behind the menus at their restaurants are a combination of seafood classics mixed with food selections that may stray away from the tourist-y same old same old. “When we first moved here from Birmingham, all I wanted was shrimp po’boys and seafood platters because it’s hard to get good, fresh seafood when you’re not on vacation. But after living here for a while, we started to miss some of our other favorites. We wanted something a little bit healthier with a variety,” she said.
The Gilberts saw a need for the market for both the things people visiting want like gumbo, fried fish and oysters, and shrimp, as well as healthier steak and fresh fish menu with a southern twist. In addition to their unique take on merging classic seafood favorites with southern style cuisine, the Gilberts feel strongly about being one of the few restaurants in the area that takes reservations, year round.
“We were supported by the locals in our first year who voiced the issue of many restaurants offering reservations in the off season, but then leaving them out to dry in the summertime. We want our tourists and locals alike to be able to make a reservation and skip the waiting for two hours in the heat. We just have found that people really appreciate having that option,” Ginny said. “We take reservations every day except for concert days, because the traffic gets too backed up. But we will do everything we can to accommodate our customers year round.”
The Gilbert’s newest venture, Yoho Rum & Tacos (also located in The Wharf and includes the Boat Bar) is a casual, laid back concept that focuses on fresh, delicious street tacos, rum flights and a wide selection of exotic rums from all over the world. Try the BBQ Chicken taco with jalapenos, Pork Caritas taco, or Tuna Poke taco. For dinner, you can try Key West shrimp and grits, Caribbean Lobster Mac & Cheese, or Jerk Rubbed Grilled Duroc Pork Chops.
The Gilberts will also be running the Boat Bar in the courtyard area, and will be open 7 days a week throughout the summer season to quench your thirst with delicious specialty drinks with a view that is unparalleled.
As residents of Gulf Shores, and the parents of an 11 and 9 year old, the Gilberts are teaching their kids to enjoy the finer things that the Gulf Coast has to offer. “Our kids love being outside and have loved the water from day one. We love boating and my son is getting really into fishing with Lane. I feel so grateful that we get to live here and our kids are growing up outside around the beach and learning to appreciate the simple things in life,” Ginny said.
In addition to spending their time on the water, Lane is an avid triathlon participant. A competitor in the 140 mile Iron Man races, Lane trains daily with a group of other locals in swimming, biking, and running. “I initially tried to train with him, but as a busy mom, it wasn’t my thing. But Lane loves it and has found a really great group of people here to be involved with. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are a great place to be a triathlete,” she said.
The Gilberts say that their restaurants have something for everyone. “If you want to get a little dressed up and have a nice glass of wine, come to Villagio. If you want to hear some great live music and let the kids play pool and video games while you wait for your food, try Ginny Lane. And if you want to stop in for a bite in your bathing suit and flip flops or try some amazing rum, give Yoho a try. We just want to bring something to the table for everybody.”