Why do so many Carrabelle restaurants close?


Why do our Carrabelle restaurants close or fail too soon? Is it ownership or “location, location, location?” Is it employees, management, menu, food preparation, selections, food quality? Is it economics, labor shortages, owner fatigue, boredom or sale for greener pastures – or condos?

Remember Michael’s and Lorenzo’s? Or was it Lorenzo’s and then Michael’s “fine dining” Italian restaurants located in the current Hairspray building?  Then there was the short-lived C-Quarters fine dining restaurant above the marina? Two Al’s was followed by Emsie’s? Remember the Beach Pit on Highway 98 across from the back entrance to some Bayou Harbor homes? It became the Three - or was it always just Two - Brothers? Remember Jewell and Chuck and their three pizza locations? Then Fish Camp became Pirates Cove which became Two Bros Dockside now at the county boat landing.

Weren’t there hot dogs for sale before the free-standing Korean hut? There have been several restaurant efforts in the original grey real estate building across from Sands Park where Forgotten Coast BBQ now serves food. The Seafood Shack had many names, including Pat’s Pizza and Turtle’s Nest. “Our” local Subway, housed in the former Express Lane convenience store, quietly disappeared earlier this year.

Remember Miss Brenda’s where Matt’s Small Engines is located across from today’s City Hall? Remember Amy’s bakery and lunch counter on Marine Street, and Lulu’s breakfast and lunch café on Avenue B next to the Carrabelle History Museum? Remember the excellent BBQ ribs personally cooked by Mr. Jimmie Crowder and served at his Marine Street Wicked Willie’s restaurant that first was the Edgewater? But remember that riverfront restaurant closed for too many years? Then there was the original Fisherman’s Wife that began in a red food trailer along the riverfront and graduated to the former real estate offices across from IGA. How about the wonderful food served by Brenda and Bobby Sapp at the Tiki-style shack next to the Old Carrabelle Hotel?

Remember the famous Julia Mae’s where the cole slaw had a reputation all its own?  Remember the Georgian café run by Harry Papadopoulos together with his sister Eva? And the original Harry’s Bar? Remember Frankie’s and Johnnies? Are you old enough to remember the White Kitchen? Remember the old-Carrabelle Tiki Hut at the waterfront where Pirates’ Landing and Two Bros now live? 

The Lanark Pearle had an earlier identity. There was the wonderful Village Café in the Lanark mall off Oak Street where Warren cooked up a storm, before short-lived pizza places lived there. Remember Seineyard and its predecessors at SummerCamp?

The Crooked River Grill, housed in the St James Bay Golf Course facilities, embodies many restaurant failure issues. They continue to struggle under the latest consultant and “new management ideas.” Replacement tables, chairs and flooring can’t help the kitchen and front-of-house personnel confusion, or the original menu offerings from 17 years ago. Management says one thing but servers offer different options. Long distance ownership cancelled the boring, often un-imaginative buffet, even though that was a “different and better” effort as encouraged by professional restaurateurs. Different, but too often disappointingly, not better. In earlier days, an engaging chef made front-of-house omelets to order. Real prime rib and roast turkey were holiday carving buffet specialties. That was entertaining fun and fine dining. Now, truck stop style forks replace the quality shell pattern, further cutting costs.

Sadly, outright failures or ownership turnovers, such as Carrabelle Junction, are common in food service. But successful restaurants need more than just concept and menu; needed is a clear vision, well-trained staff, and a mission statement at the center of every business decision. Almost 60 percent of restaurants fail within the first year of operation; 80 percent have failed within their first five years. As a member of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association board of directors, I attended every statewide convention during our many years of successful food service operations, and I took every scary statistic to heart.

With so much opportunity, it is a puzzlement to me why Carrabelle fails hungry customers.

Mel Kelly




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  • KristaAtStJamesBay

    Mel, thank you for taking the considerable time to write this article. It is very well written. We would like to respond to your criticism of the Crooked River Grill in a way that is constructive and honest. You were very right in stating that restaurants in Carrabelle, and in fact Franklin County, are always evolving and that some of them seem to do so more quickly than others. Our vision at the Crooked River Grill has always been to provide staple dishes such as traditional breakfast, sandwiches and burgers, and seafood and steaks to both our local crowd and to visitors. We also strive to provide holiday specials, weekly specials, and monthly International specials that ordinarily would not be found in this area. Even as management has changed hands, we have stayed true to this menu and take pride in the dishes that our kitchen puts out. Over the years we have done our best to provide these dishes at an affordable price but also preserve quality, and to listen to the feedback of our customers and respond accordingly. It is truly unfortunate that as a regular customer of our restaurant, you feel that we have let you down and that communication is lacking. This article came as quite a surprise as you have not reached out to management regarding your deep rooted concerns, but instead taken an action to damage our reputation and also target our staff. Like every restaurant in the business right now, we are facing staffing shortages, 40% increases in food and transportation cost, and have to combat these obstacles to the best of our ability. We are so thankful for our staff for the hours that they work and the job that they do. It is our hope that you can see that what is most important to the restaurants in Franklin County, and what actually determines their success, is the support of locals such as yourself. It is our belief that this support is what has kept our doors open for the last 17 years, and for that we are very thankful. This article also came as a surprise because not only are we proud of the changes that have been made and the quality of our food and service, but we have received many compliments and positive feedback about these changes. It is also our hope that if you choose to continue to frequent our restaurant, you will reach out to management about what we can do to better improve your experience. Thank you again, and we look forward to hearing from you offline.

    Monday, October 18, 2021 Report this