Setbacks just lessons learned for BR Mock, the Island’s favorite barkeep & film maker
Gigs include The (original) Tiki; Wannabees, Rafters; Pichou’s; ‘Poon, Mango’s; Sloop
By Fran Thompson
This story is about BR Mock, Pleasure Island’s most popular and tenured bartender. Give or take a sailing adventure or three, BR has been slinging drinks on the island for the past 33 years. Where BR goes, customers, especially those in the service industry, follow.
The story should also include Mock’s friend Walt Cudzik, a bar owner who recognized that hiring bartenders with big personalities was more important than his bar’s unique location when it came to drawing a crowd.
A friend of Mock’s, Joanna Bell, a waitress at Mikee’s at the time, suggested he apply for a job at Cudzik’s bar, The Tiki.
“I want to say it opened in 1985, the year Orange Beach incorporated. I was in my early 20’s when I went to work there in, I think, 1989,’’ Mock said
A Chicago native who played football at Purdue, Cudzik was first drafted into the NFL as a center in 1954 by the Washington Redskins. He gave them five good years.
He then signed with the brand new Boston Patriots and played in the first ever AFL championship game. He gave the Pats four more good years, before ending his 10 year pro career by winning the 1964 AFL championship trophy in Buffalo. His quarterback was Jack Kemp, a republican congressman for 18 years and later a candidate for vice-president.
Cudzik earned a law degree and won enough cases in Louisiana to buy The Tiki, a little Orange Beach hut that remains legendary among its loyal patrons.
Located directly on the sugar white sand just west of Phoenix V (The Phoenix HOA was not happy about it), The Tiki was paradise on Pleasure Isle. No air conditioning. A great jukebox. Very limited menu (hamburgers & wings). And $1 Busch beer.
A little bit of lumber from that original Tiki is deep within the building now occupied by Big Mike’s on Canal Rd. Before that, the building sat as an empty Welcome to Perdido Key eyesore for two years on a lot west of what was then Panama Mac’s. It was eventually moved and re-opened at the Canal Rd. spot.
That Canal Rd. Tiki had its own loyal clientele, as does the very relaxing Tiki Bar at Sportsman Marina. But the original Tiki was different. And, as Cudzik often said, its bartenders were the reason. The crew included Danny McMichael, Merrill Edwards, Walt’s son Michael and Annie Dufault.
. “Michael and I brought a youth element. We put in a new jukebox and transformed it,’’ Mock said. “We started attracting younger locals and, especially after hours, crowds of service industry people.
“Back then, there were not many other places to go to in Orange Beach other than us. There was The Keg and maybe Snappers. This was before Live Bait. The Gulfgate Lodge was already on its way out.’’
Cudzik died in his Gulf Shores home in December of 2005 at 73, less than two weeks before his traditional Christmas Eve happy hour visit to see “Papa Rocco” Bill McGinnes at his Hwy. 59 bistro.
The Tiki, even then, felt like a step back in time. You could barely lock it. The bartenders were also the cooks. Mock sometimes slept there following his shift.
He still misses those days 30 years later, yearning for simple times when he worked hard and played harder.
“I know it can’t happen. But I want those days back. We are now in over-development mode. But it’s great to reminisce about when we were a quaint little town,’’ he said.
“There were no cell phones or computers. If I had a choice I would go back to those times. I’m not sure all this progress has been so great.’’
Mock, a native of Onowa, Iowa, spent his summers here while he was still in high school, staying with his aunt and uncle, Sharon and Gary Linton, who owned Quickmart convenience stores in the area.
“Business must have been good,’’ Mock said. “I went from staying in a trailer to the Edgewater condos to a place on Ono Island.’’
Mock’s summer jobs included working on shrimp boats and punching tickets at the Sunland Amusement Park across from Gulf Shores Public Beach.
After a two year hitch in the Air Force, he attended Arizona State for a year before deciding he was more suited for Alabama beachlife than college.
He longlined for yellowfin grouper on the 32 ft. Kantoo, a commercial fishing boat out of Tacky Jacks Orange Beach before taking his first bartending job with local entrepreneur Rick Edwards at the pool bar at the Gulf Shores Surf & Racquet Club.
Tim McCrory, his longtime friend, sometimes roommate and collaborator, also worked there. Mock then worked as a barback at Cadillac Jacks.
Mock said the relationship between Cudzik and the HOA at Phoenix V was always contentious. He and several other Tiki employees went to Montgomery for a hearing concerning Phoenix HOA complaints about underage drinking, gambling and general Tiki rowdiness.
“I remember they tried to say that leaving two quarters on the pool table was gambling. I think the judge even knew that meant next game,’’ Mock said.
When The Tiki closed, Mock took off for Jackson, where he worked at the second floor bar at The Dock.
In 1997, with partners Chris and Eddie Sue Winter, Mock opened up Wannabees (The Flying Harpoon II is there now) in the building that Orange Beach previously used for the city’s welcome center.
In charge of the initial build-out, Mock took over full ownership of the bar a couple of years later.
He closed the business to do the build out and opening of Pichou’s On The Beach (above Kokomos in the original Barefoot Bar building at Gulf Shores Public Beach).
He later bartended for manager Mike Koch (who now co-owns The Cove) at Mango’s (where Fisher’s is now), Bob Baumhower’s first restaurant in Orange Beach.
Mock left that job to build Rafters, a sports bar that Desoto’s owners Chris & Rosemary Steele opened in downtown Gulf Shores (next to where Mudbugs is now). He solicited sports memorabilia from friends who were glad to see their stuff get a bigger audience and bought other memorabelia online.
“He found old baseball gloves and vintage posters. He had this amazing ability to find stuff online, an ability that nobody else had,’’ Chris Steele said. “When we opened up, it looked like it had been there for 40 years. It was very old school.’’
Steele first met Mock at The Tiki, where he would join other employees from Perdido Pass Restaurant for post shift drinks (Steele’s grandfather, Dale McMath, owned that magnificent restaurant overlooking Perdido Pass and Cotton Bayou).
“He had a following even back then,’’ Steele said. “BR was just a fun guy. Nothing was out of order for him. He would do shots with you. There were a lot of fun people who used to hang out with him at that place back then.’’
Rafters ended up underneath Ivan’s 2004 storm surge. But Steele’s brother, Blake, who ran the kitchen, later opened it up for successful runs at The Wharf and Pelican Place.
After Ivan, things got especially interesting for Pleasure Island’s favorite barkeep. He enjoyed what was supposed to be a one month vacation in Costa Rica so much that he stayed to volunteer for the Costa Rica National Park Service. He paid a $250 registration fee and was stationed with two other rangers on the country’s Oso Peninsula.
It wasn’t exactly an epiphany, but it was in Central America that he decided to come back to Pleasure Island and get into the film business.
“I was too old to go to film school. So, I read whatever technical manuals and books that I could find and volunteered for reality TV shows,’’ he said.
His first paid gig was with Animal Planet’s The Little Zoo That Could, the story of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo’s double evacuations 10 months apart for hurricanes Dennis and Katrina.
“I was an assistant to two camera men and two audio techs. I learned a lot from those guys,’’ Mock said. “They really taught me the ropes.’’
He registered with the Alabama Film Commission and the Mobile Film Office and eventually started Island TV, which he sold to Gary Ellis of Compass Marketing in 2008 after a (why should he be different?) dispute over a contract with the bumbling Mediacom.
He is proud of his TV station’s community service, including broadcasts of Gulf Shores High School football games and its PSA’s for non-profits such as Share The Beach.
Bill Howard, currently the manager at The Island Daiquiri Bar, worked with Mock at Rafters and even more closely at Island TV.
He said what is unique about his friend is that he can do nothing but go all-in whether he is at a party or setting up additional cameras and adding a sideline reporter for GSHS football broadcasts.
Howard said he especially enjoyed working with Mock on their Island TV show, Ask Me About My Stuff?
“It was basically a way for BR to sell stuff he had laying around the house. But it was so successful we ran out of things to sell,’’ Howard said. “I think the most unique thing we sold was a podium that was used at the 2002 MTV Music Awards. The last time I saw BR, he even mentioned that Youtube stole our idea.’’
Of course, locals have been selling stuff on WHEP in Foley since Clark Stewart’s parents started the station back in 1953. But that is another medium.
With a reputation already established during buildouts at Wannabees, Rafters and Pichou’s, Mock was hired in 2004 by Jeff Esco, who he befriended when Esco owned The Sandbar on West Beach Blvd. Together they opened Esco’s (behind Pines Grocery & Hardware in Fort Morgan).
Now a successful home builder in Montgomery, Esco said Mock worked harder than he did to get his namesake restaurant open.
“I could not have done it without him. I still remember him pulling down all the plywood from the ceiling to reveal the beams and scraping and painting and wrapping lights around the rafters.
“I never gave anybody titles. But I considered him my manager,’’ Esco added. “He is the only person I would give the keys to and let close. You can’t help but trust BR.’’
Esco said he has stayed in touch with his friend and hopes one day to move back to the Island.
“He is hilarious,’’ Esco said. “I just always enjoyed being around him. And he is real. You know what you are getting with BR.’’
Although he has continued to tend bar, mostly at The Flying Harpoon, Mock has immersed himself in the film industry as a producer, cameraman and supplier.
He formed MockSpeed Media, a company that rents grips and electric lighting, in 2012. It was the only company of its kind between New Orleans and Atlanta and business was good, with revenue doubling for five consecutive years.
In addition to a bevy of reality TV shows, movie credits attributed to MockSpeed include films starring Nicholas Cage, Gary Oldman, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Shania Twain and Emile Hirsch.
He has also produced two films with director Dusty Bias, who he met when he hired Bias to direct commercials for Island TV.
One of those films, Prairie Love, was one of around 140 accepted from the 5,000 submissions for the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. Local resident Ashley Bias was also a producer on the film. All three attended the fest that year. The movie is available on Netflix and Amazon and has made a profit.
The pandemic has put a cog in distribution of the second Bias/Mock collaboration, Immortal Jellyfish, which included a month of filming at local locations such as the bathroom at The Undertow, an empty lot owned by local veterinarian Julie Taylor and the campus of Billy’s Seafood.
Mock said producing films is about making sense of sometimes complex logistics and always having a back-up plan.
“When craziness happens, you have to have a back up plan. Being prepared is easy when everything goes right,’’ he said.
Mock said he hopes to add script writer to his film industry resume. But he’s been tweaking the same script for eight years.
Opening up The Sloop with partner Jamie Gallen in Gulf Shores’ Waterway District (under the Intracoastal Bridge), gave Mock another chance to put his stamp on a bistro’s atmosphere.
“I bought all the anchors I could find between Mobile and Pensacola, and that’s besides what I bought on Ebay,’’ he said.
The partners worked together bartending at the Flying Harpoon, and the food concept includes the signature sandwich Gallen serves at his South Foley Cheesesteak Company on Hwy. 59 in Foley.
“It just fell in our laps and it’s been fantastic,’’ Mock said. “Our work ethics were similar. We were both honest with Nancy (‘Poon owner Nancy Davis). I knew we would work well together in a partnership.’’
Mock said since the Sloop is all about catering to locals, he especially loves the location tucked on the westside of Waterway Village in Gulf Shores, with easy backroad access to Fort Morgan Rd. and Orange Beach and just a traffic light away from neighborhoods north of The Intracoastal.
The nautical theme at The Sloop represents the freedom of sailing, something Mock knows all about.
He sailed across the Pacific Ocean from Panama to New Zealand in 2010. The six month odyssey onboard a 52 ft. custom Herreshoff Mobjack is probably the highlight of his life, he said.
Having already sailed to the British Virgin Islands and across the Gulf a couple of times (with Terry Stanton, another longtime Pleasure Island bartender), Mock knew he was up for the challenge.
So, he looked online for a captain in need of a deckhand. After a couple of facetime chats, he flew to Panama to start an adventure that included a couple of weeks in the Galápagos Islands diving with sharks, visits to the Darwin Institute on Bora Bora, and stops in Tahiti and The Cook Islands.
The Sloop opened Oct. 23, 2019, just four months after Mock was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer. He said the chemo/radiation treatment he received during his six weeks at MD Anderson in Houston and support from his home community pulled him through.
“They were fantastic at MD Anderson, but I couldn’t have made it without all the support from here. The Flying Harpoon threw a fundraiser and somebody set up a GoFundMe. I can’t thank the people around here enough. They helped me through,’’ he said.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important the community support and the friends I have around here were,’’ he added. “Without that, I don’t recover.’’
Mock lost 60 of the 190 lbs. he was carrying on his 5’5’’ frame while fighting cancer. He also lost his production company. But he was back greeting customers at the Sloop eight months after being diagnosed and the restaurant is a hit. The partners are expanding the courtyard and already talking about additional restaurant concepts.
“Life is different now. I lost fat, but I also lost muscle mass,’’ he said. “I can’t just reach down and pick things up like I used to. My physiology has changed. My lifestyle has changed.’’
Mock just recently bought a Harley Davidson, his first bike in 30 years. He acknowledges that there might be a correlation between that purchase and almost dying.
“I get on that bike and I’m alive,’’ he said. “A lot of people don’t make it when they get cancer. I remember telling Shelly (Arnold) that if cancer takes me down, I’ve had a pretty good run. I didn’t get stuck in a 9 to 5 job.’’
Mock expects to continue to hash out expansion and concept ideas with Gallen. But he also may jump on a sailboat headed to the South Caribbean and open up a resort where cars, phones and computers are prohibited.
“No technology allowed and we would cater only to people who go there to have a good time,’’ he said. “It sounds cliche, but life is too short. People take it for granted. I know I still do.’’
Mock still works very hard. But he doesn’t play quite so hard. He no longer jumps off condos into pools and has mostly lost his taste for liquor.
“I’ve learned from all my mistakes, if you can even call them mistakes,’’ he said. “Failing is just learning.’’
Which is to say he would not change much about his life, especially those carefree years bartending at The Tiki.