GULF BREEZE — For the first time in some eight years, visitors to the Gulf Breeze Zoo can dine in while they see the animals.
The zoo opened its Giraffeteria on Saturday. It offers pizza, hamburgers and children’s meals served in safari hats. Zoo officials say it is just one of many anticipated additions coming.
“There’s been a need for more food and meals, as well as a nice place to sit with air conditioning,” said Jessica Morgan, the zoo’s guest services manager. “We saw there was a need for a good place and a good meal, and this meets that need.”
Crews made over the kitchen area that was open from 1995 to 2005 under the zoo's previous owners. The renovations took nearly five months.
“It’s been a long process, but it’s well worth it,” Morgan said. “It’s a fast food atmosphere, but it’s also a nice dining experience.”
Morgan said the eatery’s name came from what everyone agreed is one of the most memorable times for visitors: feeding the giraffes.
“You never forget that up-close experience, so we thought, ‘Why not have that be the name of our cafeteria,’ ” Morgan said. “People love it already. We’ve had season pass holders coming just to see it.”
Zoo visitor James Crane said Tuesday that he and his family would spend their day there thanks to the dining area. He said the plan was to tour the zoo until his three children got tired, take a break for lunch and then finish their tour.
“Every major zoo has a place to sit and eat, so we’re happy this is no exception,” said Crane, who is from Houston. “It’s a beautiful zoo, beautiful day, and there’s great amenities.”
Virginia Safari Park bought the struggling 50-acre zoo from the Gulf Coast Zoological Society in 2009. Numerous animals and amenities have been added since then.
“It’s an amazing zoo,” said Elise Bromberg of Philadelphia. “It’s always nice to have a cafeteria or dining area close to you. I can always go for something to eat.”