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May 31, 2022

The Family Business(es)

Barry Kaufman

Photography By

Two Lights, One Stand Photography
The ties that bind have woven one of the island’s most cherished institutions in RockFish and The Art Café.

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Think for a moment about the word family and what it means to you. Maybe to you family means the group of people you can sit down for a meal with and feel like wherever you are, that’s your home. Maybe your vision of family is a group that you have more in common with than anyone else, letting you freely express your personal creativity with love and support. And hey, maybe your family is just a group of people you love dearly, but who occasionally instill in you a deep desire for a cold drink.

Whatever your idea of family is, you’re going to find it at Rockfish and The Art Café. Downstairs, your family can gather ’round and enjoy a celebrated menu of fresh-from-the-sea seafood favorites and delicately marbled steaks prepared to perfection. Upstairs, your family can create something magical together at The Art Café, flexing your creative muscles and encouraging one another in your art.

And if you just need a cold drink, you can’t do any better than the Rockfish bar, which has proudly staked its claim as Hilton Head Island’s happy hour headquarters. Invite the family out and bond over a few bottoms-up beers or mouthwatering cocktails.

“For me, that’s what Hilton Head is all about: family,” said Rocky Whitehead, the patriarch of the family that birthed this unique dual-concept hotspot. “Not only the local families who have made this the place for their nights out, but to the generations of families who come visit us when they’re here on vacation.”

“I see kids growing up, year after year coming to the Art Café,” added wife Ginny, owner and proprietor of the family’s second-level business. “I might just see them once a year, but I know these children and remember what they painted. It’s just amazing to see them year after year.”

The way they invite each person who walks in, whether they’re a local or a visitor, and treat them like a member of the family is part of the appeal of this upstairs/downstairs concept.

“We love seeing the locals come in and join us in what we’ve built here,” Rocky said. “And I think us being a local, family-owned business is what tourists want to see when they come here … that feeling when you walk in that you’re dealing with family.”

And at Rockfish and The Art Café, you’re dealing with family. The whole family. The Whiteheads’ three adult children are all a crucial part of the business, with more of the family joining all the time.

“My 9-year-old grandson even comes in to help out on the weekends when he’s off school,” Ginny said. (NOTE to any freelance labor law experts out there, he gets paid in hugs from grandma).

Of course, if you’re going to truly court tourists, you’re going to have to learn to speak their language. Fortunately, for the Whiteheads, as native Cincinnatians, Ohio is their native language.

“Well, you know all about us and the Bengals,” Rocky said. As the official Bengals bar of Hilton Head Island, Rockfish was the place to be during the team’s Cinderella season which ended in a Super Bowl appearance. “We had two of the three major TV stations in Cincinnati do a piece on us. I had a gentleman visiting Venice, Italy who let me know he saw the piece. He told me, ‘You’re international, now!’”

As much fun as they’ve been having downstairs, Rockfish is just half of the appeal here. Upstairs, The Art Café has become the island’s hottest place for parents looking for a brief rendezvous without the young ones.

“We do Kids Night Out, and it has really flourished,” Ginny said. During these special events, parents can drop the kids off upstairs at The Art Café, knowing that they’ll have a blast creating their own one-of-a-kind artwork, then head downstairs to Rockfish and enjoy an intimate (Read: uninterrupted) night of marital bliss. “It’s like a babysitter for the night.”

And in the end, it gives the family one more thing to do together. Even if, technically, they’re doing it apart.
“We used to take family trips down to Sanibel when the kids were younger, and I know I’d have been excited to get away for one night,” Rocky said. (You parents of young kids know how vital those stolen moments are and how much they bring the family together.) “We love families. That’s what we’re all about.”

So, if you have a family, whether they’re a family that dines together, paints together or raises a glass together, do what families have been doing on Hilton Head Island for years: head to Rockfish and The Art Café. If you’re not family when you walk in, you will be by the time you leave.

Rockfish and The Art Café are located at 5 Lagoon Road, Hilton Head Island. For more information, visit rockfishhhi.com or call (843) 689-2662.

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