Angelo’s Is Back

Storm surge couldn’t keep this local landmark from going under, and now it’s back and better than everPhoto by Scott Holstein
Angelo’s is BackAfter Two Years, a Wakulla Landmark Reopens for Business 

By Rosanne Dunkelberger

On July 10, 2005, the first major hurricane of the storm season – Dennis – was about to make landfall near Pensacola. But 150 miles to the east in Wakulla County, Angelo Petrandis had a bad feeling.

As a fisherman, he had a sense about the weather and water. And as the owner of Angelo & Son’s Seafood Restaurant, he was concerned because what made the restaurant so charming – its location, built “over the water” on the north bank of the Ochlockonee Bay – also made it vulnerable to the vagaries of nature.

He and his son, Thomas Petrandis, would head to the restaurant that morning to find a situation that was bad – and about to get much, much worse.

Thomas’ wife, Jenny, recalls the scene:

“Every hurricane, we always take everything off the walls and put them in the front booth area just in case we had to get out of there,” she says. When they arrived, they were able to walk in the front door, “and it went from that to knee-deep at the front hostess desk in 30 minutes.”

The family would adjourn to a condominium next door to watch and chronicle in video and photographs the destruction of a 60-year legacy.

“Whitecaps were coming through the building,” Thomas Petrandis says.

Dennis brought a 9-foot storm surge that ruined the local landmark and devastated the coastal area.

“We were surprised at that one,” Jenny Petrandis says of the hurricane. “They didn’t even evacuate the area. In fact, when you look at the pictures it almost looks sunny. There wasn’t much rain and a little bit of wind, but the water … .”

The loss was not just the Petrandises’; the restaurant also was part of local heritage.

“It wouldn’t be Wakulla County without that restaurant,” says Bonnie Holub, director of tourism development for the county.

The original building was constructed in 1945 by George Petrandis, Angelo’s father, with wood and nails he salvaged from nearby Camp Gordon Johnston and powered by generators purchased from the Army training facility. The odd location was its initial attraction. Leon and Wakulla counties were “dry” at the time and, because George’s Café and Bar was built on pilings and located over water – and over the Franklin County line – it was the closest “watering hole” to Tallahassee and southern Georgia.

It later became just as popular for its local seafood offerings. Over the years, Angelo Petrandis and his wife, Arline, would operate their own restaurant just up the street (a Wakulla Bank now sits on the property) and, in the mid-1980s, they would completely renovate and move back to the waterfront.

Like his father, Thomas Petrandis grew up working in the restaurant, and ultimately his family – the third generation – took over its operation in the early 2000s. He was in charge of the kitchen and Jenny Petrandis handled the front of the house and the business end of things. Angelo Petrandis oversaw the Tropical Trader fleet of boats that supplies the restaurant with grouper, shrimp and other seafood.

And then Dennis hit.

After the initial shock wore off, Angelo Petrandis was determined to rebuild. And the community was behind him, because the restaurant is not only a landmark but also an economic engine, employing more than 100 people during the busy summer season and buying from local fishermen and other suppliers.

“The day after the hurricane, we had county commissioners and everybody you can imagine down here saying ‘Don’t worry, we will help,’” says Jenny Petrandis.

One of the greatest boons, she says, was a permit that allowed the business to continue selling seafood from a nearby dock, which kept the family’s boats running – and the restaurant’s cooks employed.

But even with all the goodwill in the world, it still was two years before the new, improved, bigger, higher, nearly $6-million Angelo & Son’s would reopen in August 2007.

Climb the stairs or take the elevator up to the new dining room. The walls are covered with cypress – much of it reclaimed from the original building – and with photos that were saved from the hurricane’s ravages. There is a new gallery that features shots of whitecaps as they whip through the old restaurant’s dining room in 2005.

As all storms clouds do, Dennis did have one silver – make that flaming orange – lining.

When the bridge spanning the Ochlockonee Bay was reconstructed in 1990, it blocked the restaurant’s sunset view. When Dennis’ storm surge slapped the bottom of that bridge, Angelo Petrandis decided to make the rebuilt restaurant a couple of feet higher than the law required, just to be on the safe side. That extra height lifted Angelo’s above the bridge and allows patrons, particularly those fortunate enough to get a seat on the wraparound porch, an unobstructed view of spectacular sunsets over Franklin County.

The reconstruction also allowed the Petrandises to more than double the size of the kitchen and add another 100 seats, for a capacity of 350 – welcome news for those salivating as they wait for a taste of the restaurant’s signature smoked fish dip. (Not the cream-cheesy kind you’re used to getting, it’s a sublime secret recipe created by Angelo that is served with marinated red onions and bread slices.) Diners also can feast on house specialties such as bulldozer lobsters, grouper and escargot. Thomas Petrandis “gets bored easily, he’s always trying something new,” says his wife, so there always are creative chalkboard specials such as those on a recent weekend that included fried green tomatoes with lump crab meat and sour cream sauce, shrimp fritters, and Cuban-style grouper served with yellow rice.

The reconstruction was a family affair, with relatives serving as the general contractor and designing the new kitchen. Thomas and Jenny Petrandis have two young children and expect that there will be a fourth generation of Petrandises serving up seafood to a grateful clientele in the future.

“If not, we’re in trouble,” Thomas Petrandis says. “We’ve wasted a lot of money.”

Not to worry, says Jenny Petrandis. Their 10-year-old daughter, Marina, already is in the kitchen making key lime pies and the restaurant’s signature Greek dressing.

Categories: Forgotten Coast 2008, Forgotten Coast Archive