Jump & Phil...And A Moose Named Waldo
Author: David Gignilliat | Photographer: Photography by Anne
“I always thought that every great bar should have a moose,” said co-owner Phil Henry, seated tableside a few feet below the animal’s permanently mounted perch at Jump and Phil’s, a locals favorite on Hilton Head Island. Like many of the (literally) hundreds of items that adorn the wall at Jump and Phil’s, there’s a bit of a story behind Waldo, its resident moose.
The restaurant’s two owners, Henry and John “Jump” Griffin, originally wanted a logo, something to define their new enterprise. After all, opening their own place in 1994 was the culmination of 19 years working in the island’s food and beverage industry.
They wanted to do something memorable—like a moose.
Except that you’re about as likely to find a moose’s head on Hilton Head Island as you would find a case of scotch at a temperance rally. Undeterred, they put classified ads in newspapers from Atlanta to Maine. Eventually, they got a bite.
“This guy from Atlanta calls and says he has [a moose’s head] for sale,” said Henry. “So we negotiated a price, and the guy said, ‘I’ll bring it to you tomorrow if you pay in cash.’”
Phil agreed, and the deal appeared to be done. The moose’s arrival was imminent except for the part about Jump and Phil having $1,500 cash to pay for it.
“I remember that was right at the end, right before we were about to open up, and we had sort of run out of money setting the place up,” said John, the restaurant’s co-owner. “When you start a restaurant, it always costs more than you think it does, and it takes more time than you think. So here we are running out of money, and it’s $1500 for the moose’s head, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, how are we going to get this?’”
Luckily for Jump and Phil, necessity and (temporary) poverty turned out to be the mother of invention. After working in restaurants up and down the island since 1975, they’d made a few friends along the way. On short notice, they persuaded 15 well-wishers to each put up $100 and buy the moose head as a gift for the restaurant.
As a reward for their antler-friendly benefactors, they let them choose a name for the house mascot. The first pick, Jump-and-Phil-skin, was a play on the restaurant’s name and the straw-into-gold siren of Grimm Brothers lore. The handle didn’t stick, though, and a second search was commissioned. Given another opportunity, the informal committee unearthed Waldo, a nickname that’s stuck to this day.
The moose now hangs prominently from the restaurant’s walls, its sober, penetrating gaze enchanting scores of loyal patrons.
“It’s by far our most popular table,” said Griffin, who decorates the moose for special holidays. “People will come in and request it every year.”
A stuffed moose’s head is just the type of clever touch you’d expect at Jump and Phil’s, a convivial, hearty back-slap of a restaurant.
“It’s Cheers. It’s a local bar,” said Henry.
“They don’t scream Norm at the bar, but they could,” agreed Griffin.
Black-and-white pictures of celebrities and regular customers line the wall—a tribute to The Pump Room, a celebrated eatery at Chicago’s posh Ambassador Hotel. A cozy fireplace keeps diners warm during the occasional island cold spell. On any given night, you might find yourself rubbing elbows with acclaimed authors John Mixon or Kathryn Wall at happy hour. On Sundays, the restaurant becomes the unofficial home-away-from-home for Green Bay Packers loyalists, with a winning game day spread that includes tailgate-style grilled Johnsonville brats.
A workmanlike menu, featuring everything from lobster to chicken wings, is affordably priced and generously portioned. Fried seafood entrées (scallops, shrimp, oysters), steaks (12 oz. New York strip and a rib-eye) and an award-winning hamburger are among the stalwarts. A popular Sunday brunch (featuring eggs Benedict, steak and eggs and grilled French toast) consistently satisfies the pre-pigskin crowd.
In many ways, Jump and Phil’s’ laid-back, charming vibe is a reflection of its two owners, who became fast friends after meeting as roommates during their last few months at the University of Georgia.
Armed with a set of college degrees (John in journalism, Phil in zoology) along with youth and enthusiasm, the pair hoped to escape the mid-1970s era stagflation with a working layover on Hilton Head Island. Buoyed by a sense of adventure, they had a vague hope that they’d find work as lifeguards.
“We were so desperate to get jobs. We took coat and ties [to our interviews],” said Phil. “We changed in this gas station nearby, and went over [to the office] for the interview. And they just had no work for us.”
A friend suggested bartending and waiting tables as a temporary option, and before you can say “table for two,” they’d landed plum jobs at the Plantation Club in Sea Pines. Long stints at island staples CQ’s and Reilley’s followed, and summer jobs casually morphed into a calling of sorts for the two Bulldog graduates.
“We didn’t really plan to make this our career. After we got down here, we were just going to stay down here for eight months a year until the economy got better, and we were going to go back [to Atlanta] and get real jobs,” said Griffin, who is married and has raised two children on Hilton Head Island. “Once we got in it, we found out we really liked it, and we were pretty good at it.”
Like many who’ve worked long tours in the island’s food and beverage industry, they eventually started to get a thirst for opening their own place.
“I guess we always wanted to do our own thing,” said Jump.
Now closing in on 17 years into the experiment, it’s fair to say that Jump and Phil made the right decision.
“If I didn’t own this place, this would still be where I’d hang out,” Griffin said proudly, “because it’s just my kind of place. It’s just very comfortable. There’s just a good feeling [here] to me, and [as an owner], you hope that other people that come in feel the same way.”
Jump and Phil’s is located at Hilton Head Plaza, across from the Sea Pines Welcome Center at 7-B Greenwood Drive, Suite #3. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. For more information, please contact the restaurant at (843) 785-9070 or visit jumpandphils.com.