Nippers' owner thankful for community support

Restaurant looks to move on after deadly shooting in parking lot

By Hailey Winslow , Francine Frazier - Senior web editor

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - Nippers Beach Grille is best known for beach music, good food and a friendly, outdoor atmosphere.

But Thursday night, it was a homicide scene with hundreds of panicking witnesses.

Nippers was open again Friday night after a deadly shooting in the parking lot on Thursday, where Jacksonville Beach police said 40-year-old Zachariah J. Tipton of Fernandina Beach was gunned down after a fight outside the restaurant, which was hosting a motorcycle "bike night."

There were fewer people at Nippers the day after the shooting than would normally be there on a Friday night, but the owner, Rudy Theale, said he's OK with that.

He said he was nervous about what would happen with his business after the deadly altercation in the parking lot. He couldn't sleep Thursday night, he said, but then he was inundated with an outpouring of support from the community. He said people kept telling him they're not going to stop coming to Nippers, because there aren't many places like it.

"When a tragedy happens in the vicinity of a place that you've worked that hard to build, it's a telltale sign as to whether or not you have the support," Theale said. "I'm just elated about the fact that the folks are still coming out here tonight. We had families here for lunch today."

Several people who were at Nippers during Thursday's shooting were back Friday and said they made a point of coming back to show support of the restaurant.

Customer Corey Myers said he worried that people from out of town might search "Nippers" on the Internet and find stories about the shooting, and that would be their only perception of the restaurant.

"But I know, in general, this area is a very good area," Myers said.

Theale said he won't be having more "bike nights" at Nippers. He said he's going to stick to the atmosphere of being a neighborhood island retreat.

"I'm going to do a better job than I've ever done to make sure that the service is right, to make sure that the atmosphere is right, to make sure that I drive home the fact that we are what we are and let's not try to be something we're not," he said. "That's a big learning lesson for me."

Theale's friends have rallied on Facebook to organize a "take back the beach" event in support of Nippers at 6 p.m. Saturday at the restaurant.

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