GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Every time Bill Vrazel heard a rumor about the demise of his restaurant, his answer was the same. He wasn't closing Vrazel's Fine Food Restaurant. On Thursday, the answer changed.
After tempting taste buds for more than 26 years, the Vrazel family told their customers the Gulfport restaurant will close on December 15. Vrazel said it's time for him to answer a different calling.
Bill Vrazel has spent so much of his life in the kitchen, overseeing his signature dishes he calls Creole-style regional cuisine with a French and Italian flair.
"The most famous dish in the kitchen, Eggplant Larosa," he said proudly as he placed a plate on a tray.
After 26 years of running Vrazel's in Gulfport, the seasoned chef is ready to hang up his apron.
"I've been in this business 42 years. It's time to get out of this stress, time to listen to the voice in my little mind and say, "Hey, I want you to do something else with your life, so I'm going to answer that call," said Vrazel.
Vrazel said that calling from God may involve more charity work and a bigger involvement in the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi. Believe it or not, he considered closing Vrazel's before Hurricane Katrina wiped-out the restaurant in 2005.
"After Katrina would have been a good time to exit. But when you came down here it was so devastated. It's like, this is not the time you pick up and leave, and that's not the way I want to leave out of the business," he said.
Vrazel's reopened in 2006 and has fed numerous locals, tourists, and a long list of celebrities and politicians, including President George W. Bush in 2008. He said what he'll miss most are the familiar faces he considers his "family".
"I don't know if they could really replace it, the food and the atmosphere. And it's just a very nice place," said Stanley Hastings of Gulfport.
"We had a Summer home in Bay St. Louis, so we would stop here periodically to eat and it was always, always good," said Patricia Massarini of Magnolia, TX.
After we told her the restaurant will be closing, Massarini replied, "Oh, that's a shame. Well, we'll have to come back again before they close. I'm sorry to hear that."
"It's been a great ride. The people have been wonderful and the customers have been tremendous, and this has been a real joy," said Vrazel.
While the name will be gone come December 15, the name Vrazel will live on.
"It'll be the history of the Gulf Coast, so when they talk about great food and a great place, I'm sure this name will be one of those among many," he said.
Some of the projects Vrazel is considering is working on a cookbook featuring his famous recipes, and maybe some consulting work.
As for the building, Island View Casino Resort officials announced Thursday that it has entered into an agreement to purchase Vrazel's and plans to open a restaurant there. The sale is expected to close in December.