TAMPA — The lunch crowd was stunned to read the note posted on the locked door of their go-to seafood restaurant on Wednesday.
“We have been blessed to be here for almost 81 years,” read the note at the Colonnade Restaurant, a Tampa landmark on Bayshore Boulevard. “Through many tears and much thought we have decided to sell the restaurant. We are so thankful for all of our employees and our wonderful customers. We will miss you!”
A joint venture between Ascentia Development Group and Batson-Cook Development Co. acquired the property and is planning luxury waterfront condominiums with views of downtown Tampa and the bay. The parcel at the southwest corner of West Julia Street and Bayshore Boulevard is one of the last on Bayshore specifically zoned for a high-rise tower. The sale price was $6.2 million, according to deeds filed in circuit court on Wednesday.
The sudden closure of the Colonnade left diners and employees adrift on Wednesday.
“That is the most beautiful, restful view,” said Richard Trout of Ocala, who arrived at noon with his wife and another couple. “I was just telling them we’ve got to get a table by the window, because it’s a gorgeous view, and it’s so relaxing.”
Brad and Lisa Hamilton of Riverview showed up with a gift card their children gave them for Christmas. “We loved sitting out by the window and just looking out over the bay,” said Brad Hamilton.
Patrons have enjoyed that view since 1935, when Dr. Richard and Lois Whiteside and her sons opened a restaurant featuring burgers, fried chicken and Coca-Cola with an olive in it. The restaurant became a popular hangout for Tampa teenagers and the menu evolved to incorporate fresh fish and shellfish. Five generations of Whiteside family members have worked at the restaurant.
“The Whiteside family would like to express our deep gratitude to our staff as well as our loyal customers we have served over the past 80 years,” said a statement from Jack “Smokey” Whiteside and Richard “Dicky” Whiteside, the last owners. “We have been blessed to be part of the city of Tampa and its rich and enduring history. Although the decision to sell was an emotionally difficult one, we felt the time had arrived to move on.”
Sarasota-based Ascentia has developed residential properties across Florida, including the Beau Ciel condominium tower in Sarasota and the Aria project on Longboat Key. Atlanta-based Batson-Cook is a subsidiary of Kajima USA and provides capital primarily through partnerships on commercial real estate projects in the southeastern United States.
“We thank the ownership family of the Colonnade for entrusting us with a property where they served the Tampa community for many generations,” said Ascentia principal Jay Tallman. “We are excited to bring a new project to life along Bayshore Boulevard, and we are confident that what we will propose will set a new standard of excellence for Tampa.”
No further details of the project have been released.
At the shuttered restaurant on Wednesday, Stacey Whitfield, great granddaughter of the founders, refunded the value of the Hamiltons’ gift card — throwing in a key lime pie for good measure — and wiped away tears as she reminisced about the family business.
“They do it with a very heavy heart,” she said of the Whitesides’ decision to sell. “They know that they are very loved, and they appreciate that, but times change.”
The family is making arrangements to donate all the remaining food and restaurant equipment to local non-profits and charitable organizations. The Colonnade was working with other area restaurants to place employees, Whitfield said.
Server Valerie Fusco, who learned of the sale and closure from a morning phone call, showed up to pick up her last check. “I’m sad,” she said. “I’ve lived in Tampa a long time, and this has been a landmark. Even my family from Philadelphia, they sought out this place for lunch.”
Shirley Russo and her husband, Jack, have been patronizing the Colonnade since it was a drive-in restaurant and hangout for Plant High School students. A menu from the 1950s is framed in the restaurant, boasting of 30-cent hamburgers and 30-cent milkshakes.
“We won’t be having a relaxing day by the water,” said Shirley Russo after learning of the closure. “It’s really a shame. I’m sorry to see it close. I hate to see it go.”
Bayshore Boulevard has become a hotbed of residential development as builders hope to lure empty-nesters and millennials to urban centers. A new 20-plus story apartment tower has been proposed for the 2700 block of Tampa’s signature roadway, and construction is under way on the 15-story Aquatica condominium tower next door to it on Bayshore.
A message board outside the Colonnade’s main entrance has displayed its last daily special. On Wednesday, the board read, “Thank you for 80 amazing years! We will miss you all! 1935-2016.”