The Beach at Bennie French's was always frequented by bathers and tourists.
Henderson Point -- History | home
at Henderson Point in Pass Christian
In 1928, Annie’s Place opened as a drive-in, serving sandwiches and soda to the tourists who stopped off from the old wooden bridge that was then part of the link along Highway 90. It was opened and operated by “Big Annie” and her husband “Poppa Sam” Pagano.
In 1937, the son and daughter dancing team of Annie and Sylvester Pagano, were winners of the “Big Apple” and “trucking” dance contest held at Uncle Charlie’s Night Club in Bay St. Louis. (Note - Charles A. Breath opened in early 1930s)
In 1939, the Drive-In was moved out of the street to the Pagano lot and underwent a major change with a stucco facade that replaced the original frame house. This was the same year that Annie Jacqueline Pagano graduated from St. Joseph High School in Pass Christian. As a present from her parents, she was given a graduation open-house and dance hosted at their Henderson Point restaurant.
By 1940, Annie’s was well established, even after it had been destroyed by fire in 1932. Over the years, the restaurant suffered even more disasters -- by hurricanes that occurred in 1947, 1965, and again in 1969, when it took the brunt of the path of Camille.
In 1960, retired owner of Annie’s Restaurant, Gaetano Sam Pagano, died. Having been born in Italy, Sam lived in Pass Christian for 50 years. He had two daughters, Mrs. Annie Lutz and Mrs. Catherine Luce, and two sons, Salvadore and Sylvester Pagano.
This was the same year that the restaurant underwent a complete renovation. Thayer Lutz, Annie’s artist husband, took personal charge of the interior design using copper items in unique decor and installing bells throughout the premises, with the heavy ones placed in the patio garden.
Needless to say, each time disaster struck, Annie’s was resurrected. When the debris from Hurricane Camille was cleared away and utilities restored, an on-site sandwich business was opened until other local food dispensers started operating. Then the Lutzes closed down to restore the main dining area and kitchen facilities. In the process, they expanded the dining areas to include the Garden Room, Sun Room, and the Cellar Door only to be struck once more with a calamitous fire in 1972. As if this wasn’t enough, in 1980, a van ran through the dining room’s front wall, causing the establishment to close down for two weeks of repairs.
Each time that the place was rebuilt, strong family ties were demonstrated as Annie’s two brothers rolled up their sleeves and assisted in restoring the establishment.
In March 1978, Annie’s Restaurant celebrated its 50 year anniversary, hosted by its principal operators; Annie, her husband Thayer Lutz, and her sister Catherine. This was a demonstration of their gratitude to the large family of coastal regulars that dined at Annie’s. They had an open house celebration that was extended to their many regular guests.
In 1958, Vaughn Monroe, popular singer in movies and TV, had supper at Annie’s Restaurant and he responded to requests for autographs. Throughout the years other celebrities included Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell.
Today, the large, modern restaurant is still uniquely decorated with copper barrels from breweries and copper cheese vats from dairies in the Midwest. The Lounge features seats made from copper vats and above the bar center is a huge copper vat that was brought in from Wisconsin. The main dining room has a ceiling shelf that is lined with hand carved painted duck decoys. In one of the dining rooms hangs wagon wheel chandeliers.
There are always several paintings, but in particular the ones that stand out are Santa Clause, Jesus Christ, and “Big Annie.” The dining rooms have open fire places and all year long, strains of music add an ambiance of soulful comfort.
For years, the bells in the courtyard have peeled for many special or personal occasions. In particular they ring out the old year and ring in the new year. Birthdays, engagements, anniversaries, and even new babies are reason enough to hear the chimes and gongs issue forth from one or a cadre of the seven large bells that are assembled.
In revealing her lifestyle to a local reporter, she recounted that the restaurant has been her entire life. Starting as a young car-hop and even having met her artist husband Thayer Lutz, who stopped at the restaurant during a visit from Wisconsin.
Annie’s is signaled as one of the most popular restaurants on the Coast. In the 50s it became famous for its Fried Chicken and Spaghetti which is still on the menu. Known for its charm, comfort, and good cooking, the menu lists exquisite cuisine with standard house specialties that include Schmedje Shrimp Royal and Peggy’s Beer Batter Shrimp.
Annie Lutz operates more than a restaurant. It is a tradition manifested by stalwart courage and remembered service with sincere warmth towards its guests. As the sole operator today, Annie very seldom misses a day of work. Even though she has a dedicated staff of service personnel who have stayed their posts for many years, Annie makes her rounds in greeting her guests at each table, either to pass a story or just to welcome them and to acknowledge her gratitude.
Hurricane Katrina ended a grand and wonderful tradition and a grand and wonderful Family enterprize.