THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED TO INCLUDE A STATEMENT FROM WHITE SANDS.
When Anthony Taranto was a boy, he and his friend John Henderson would run the risk of a spanking by sneaking away in the summertime to the ice plant on the Apalachicola riverfront, to enjoy the chips flying off the ice sheets being cut into smaller blocks.
“We’d get this ice from under the saws, you know, and make a snow cone or something out of it and then just eat it,” he told an interviewer from Southern Foodways Alliance in 2005. “It was real fine.”
Not far down from the ice plant on Water Street was the family business, Joe Taranto Seafood Company, established by his Sicilian immigrant father and his double first cousin in the mid-1920s. All along the waterfront the seafood houses were bustling, run by people like Bud Creamer, Buddy Ward, Homer Marks, the Mosconis Brothers, and the Kirvin Brothers.
Over time, Joe Taranto gradually replaced the original wood building on the property, built by Mr. Coombs, with three concrete buildings, totaling nearly 6,500 square feet, built from blocks he swapped in lieu of rent for a portion of the 122 feet of waterfront.
As a boy Anthony Taranto and his friends would roam the area, watching as the half-dozen or so 35-foot boats from Taranto’s went in and out to work the bay.
“Back then it was busy all the time,” he said.
A lot of Taranto’s seafood was sold locally, with some shipped by railway to New York City, or trucked to shrimp peeling plants in Louisiana.
Taranto, husband to wife Toni for the past five decades, parents of son Joey and daughter Angela, had a distinguished 42-year career with the Army National Guard, and after his retirement returned to his hometown to operate the business, by then renamed Taranto and Sons.
“When daddy died in 1975, I had to more or less take it over,” he said.
Ten days ago, after more than a decade where the dormant seafood house deteriorated into ruin, its primary purpose to serve as a favorite Old Florida backdrop for prom pictures and tourist memories, Taranto closed on a $1 million deal to sell the property to White Sands Investment Partners LLC, its assets managed by Apalachicola businessman Steven Etchen.
The July 18 sale further expands White Sands’ continued buying of the Apalachicola waterfront.
White Sands has a controlling interest in the former Boss Oyster, Rainbow Motel and Caroline’s Restaurant property, shuttered since Hurricane Michael, which is adjacent to the newly acquired Taranto property.
Etchen is poised to unveil plans with the city for a marina project that will include this property, as well as the newly acquired Taranto property.
“We are extremely excited about including the Taranto property in the Boss Oyster Restaurant and Marina rehabilitation project,” he said. “We look forward to bringing this iconic Apalachicola waterfront dining and recreation spot back to its former standing as a central feature of downtown Apalach.”
The sale leaves just three seafood houses remaining in Apalachicola – Buddy Ward and Sons Seafood, just on the other side of Riverfront Park; Leavins Seafood Inc., on the southeastern end of the waterfront; and Water Street Seafood, on the northwestern end, adjacent to the Mill Pond.
Shaun Donahoe, the broker who handled the deal, said White Sands approached him about two months ago, and the parties eventually settled on a price tag about $200,000 short of the $1.2 million asking price.
“I couldn’t do anything with it any more,” said Taranto, who turns 90 on Aug. 12. “The storm tore the docks up, and I can’t get around any more. I had several offers but they didn’t want to give me enough money.”
One item that will remain in Taranto hands is the large yellow Joe Taranto Seafood Company sign from in front. Grandson Joey, named after his grandfather, took it home last week.