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Mar 31, 2023

Rockfish @Bomboras Bar: Family-owned destination upping its game once again

Amy Bartlett

Photography By

Two Lights, One Stand
“I think we should start a family business,” said a young Taylor Whitehead, son of Rocky and Ginny Whitehead, owner/operators of Rockfish Seafood & Steaks at Bomboras on Hilton Head Island. It might seem an unusual statement for a kid, but not so for this family. “We’ve always been entrepreneurs at heart—all of us,” said […]

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“I think we should start a family business,” said a young Taylor Whitehead, son of Rocky and Ginny Whitehead, owner/operators of Rockfish Seafood & Steaks at Bomboras on Hilton Head Island.

It might seem an unusual statement for a kid, but not so for this family. “We’ve always been entrepreneurs at heart—all of us,” said mom, Ginny, of the inimitable crew behind a few different family endeavors, not the least of which is a south island hotspot that’s upping its game once again.

Already a family built on building businesses (the Whiteheads still maintain additional businesses as family partners like Excel Rx), they were pulled to Hilton Head Island by golf (what else?) when their kids became involved in the sport nearly 20 years ago. Opening Bomboras Grille in 2011 (thank you, Taylor!) and changing the name to Rockfish in 2017, their colors have run true from day one (orange and black, to be clear).

Known equally as a “chill bar” on Coligny beach, “Hilton Head’s seafood destination for friends, family, and fun,” and “Cincinnati South,” for which owner Rocky Whitehead has been named makeshift mayor, Rockfish is gaining another 10 yards as it fine tunes one of its many identities, growing from straight-up Bengals Bar to one-stop, top-shelf sports bar for a wider range of Ohio teams—still geared toward family but with more eclectic sports gear walking through the door. Bring on the Bearcats, Ohio State games, golf tourney events (watch this space during Heritage), March Madness, and more.

As any Bengals fan likely knows, Rockfish is already standing room only every Bengals game. But it’s not the game itself that packs the bench; it’s the camaraderie. “We’ve heard people say over and over how they’d rather sit next to a friend in Hilton Head than next to a stranger in the stadium,” Rocky said, and that’s what they’ve grown over the years. People have come for the games and built rapport with the locals.

That fact goes beyond the Bengals and played a bit of a role in the ever-burgeoning feel of the foodie-favorite locale. “We were getting a lot of PGA pros in when they were in town for a tournament. Ernie Els would be in with his wife and caddie and would become a dear friend. We noticed we were becoming a Bengals Bar and a golf place,” Rocky said. So, they figured why not set out the shingle for whatever your sport to pull up a chair and be a part of this unique local fare.

Speaking of fare, that’s another feather in the cap that makes Rockfish stand out in the crowd: the oh-so-Ohio brands on the bar menu. Skyline Chili features shoulder to shoulder with Cheese Coneys (Skyline Chili being more than just “Cincinnati-style” chili, but a Cincinnati-based restaurant chain and its product line of Cincy food faves).

Not in the mood for local seafood? Get your back-home fix and say “Who Dey” to a rack of ribs from the world-famous Montgomery Inn of Cincinnati. Not just inventory, this is a partnership with ribs shipped straight to Rockfish from the inn and marketed by Montgomery back home, telling locals to find their ribs at Rockfish when they’re visiting Hilton Head Island. (We all know what Ohio marketing has done to build the local economy.)

Top off your bag of Queen City favorites with some Graeter’s ice cream, but also keep an eye on new incoming dishes as they perfect and broaden their image as Coligny’s upscale sports bar.

As their events and focuses grow, so does the caliber of menu with which they’re raising the bar. Not to be pigeon-holed, remember, with all of that, we’ve only scratched the scorecard and high-fives side of the joint. The Rockfish at Bomboras restaurant-proper side is best described as “high-end beach” and has a menu for which the term “to die for” features heavily on Tripadvisor reviews. Popular dishes include locally famous house-made crab cakes, spicy calamari, Steak de Rocky (named after the one and only) which is an eight-ounce blackened filet mignon served with bleu cheese mashed potatoes (and other sides), finished with a veal demi-glace.

There’s still one more hidden gem that is exclusive to the Rockfish family of attributes, and it’s just up a single flight of stairs: The Art Café paint-your-own-pottery studio is not only the brainchild of “Mrs. Rocky” Ginny Whitehead, but it’s part of an integral relationship with the restaurant downstairs that features date-night partnerships. (You can send the kids upstairs to play and paint and make merry while the grownups dine downstairs.) It’s not just a kids-aside babysitter; it’s a rich and unique opportunity for kids to have a great outing of their own, occupied not just with painting, dinner, and games, but meeting other kids of different backgrounds from all around the country and the world.

The Whiteheads have kept their family-owned business family-friendly in every corner of their Lagoon Road location, where even the locals feel like they are on vacation. Your options are endless as you can partake of the high-end cuisine, enjoy the upscale bar menu, and/or join in the paint-your-own party that is the stacked deck of experiences at Rockfish Seafood and Steaks at Bomboras.

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