Story by JENNA BAILEY
Photos courtesy of photographer Roland Moriarty and Hotel DFS owner Damon Becnel.
After two years of vacancy, the century-old Hotel DeFuniak is back in business in DeFuniak Springs’ Historic District with its grand opening set for Dec. 1, featuring the Tropicana Club restaurant. New owner Damon Becnel has brought the building, a significant part of the town’s history, back to its original glory and splendor. Becnel has been in the construction and development industry since 1986. His family moved from Lafayette, La. to Destin in 1998 because they loved the area and the people. Becnel has been in the hospitality business since 1999 – starting with Resort Property Management, now called Visionary Destin, which has done association management and vacation rentals over the years and is ongoing currently.
Becnel was inspired to invest in Hotel DeFuniak because he has visited DeFuniak Springs many times over the years, and fell in love with its charm. When the opportunity to purchase the hotel, with its rich history, presented itself, he was eager to return it to its roots as a benefit to the town.
“The local support has been extremely encouraging, and looking forward I’d like to help downtown provide jobs and an anchor for the community to grow in a positive direction. I’m just happy to be involved,” said Becnel.
Becnel explains his choice of name for the restaurant as the result of having visited Cuba and various Caribbean islands for business in the past. Becnel came to love the culinary and cultural experience he encountered during his travels. “The delightful seafood and light but delicious food was a refreshing diversion to traditional Southern fare, so the goal was not to directly compete with other local restaurants but instead to add another choice for locals and visitors alike.”
Hotel DeFuniak and the Tropicana Club will be open to the public starting Dec. 1, 2017. The hotel provides 12 rooms, vintage decor and ambience, a fitness center, gaming parlor, cigar bar and Caribbean and New Orleans-style cuisine. Chef Tavita of the Tropicana Club has created a number of dishes for the restaurant’s menu including mango salsa, Jamaican jerk chicken, Cuban sandwiches, ceviche and steaks.
In regards to the clientele that he expects the hotel and restaurant to attract, Becnel explains that the boutique and historic hotel market has been an attractive alternative to traditional branded hotels in the recent years. The hotel’s respect for the community and the country is why they are permanently offering a 15-percent current and former military discount, a 10-percent government discount (“not only for first responders but all of our public friends in the community and country”) and a 5-percent historic district employee and owner discount.
“We want to give back to the community first, and in addition attract new tourists and interest in the area…Personally I’m excited to be here in DeFuniak Springs and participate in the Main Street Program that the town leaders have worked so hard to secure for the future of this beautiful city!”