Story by: Jennifer Stevens
Just beyond the large windows of the Colonnade Restaurant, skies over Tampa Bay slowly turn from blue to deep pink. Couples cozy up in corner booths, sipping peach daiquiris and eating blueberry muffins. Moms and dads order Captains Platters for the entire family to share while the kids color cartoon fish-far too busy to notice one of the best views in South Tampa.
The view has changed quite a bit over the Colonnade’s 73-year-old history, and the restaurant has kept up with South Tampa’s evolutions. Built on a white sandy beach before Bayshore Boulevard’s defining sidewalk and row of mansions and condos even existed, the Colonnade once stood as a curbside burger joint in the middle of nowhere. Serving fries and Cokes with olives to Plant High School kids during the “cruising” age, the restaurant grew up with those teens to what it is now: a grouper lover’s paradise, complete with rich history, familiar faces and that great view of the Bay.
The only thing that hasn’t changed much is the old oak tree out front. It was there the day Lois (known as “Marnia” to her family) and Richard Whiteside opened the restaurant in 1935, on the lot where their two sons once sold lemonade. It has witnessed countless teenage couples canoodling in the backseats of convertibles beneath its outstretched branches. And more than once, it has been the site of romantic proposals in the moonlight.
Lois Whiteside had good reason to open her restaurant in the middle of the Great Depression: she wanted to give her sons, Dick and Jack, a reason to stay close to home. But eventually, Jack joined the military and went off to San Francisco during World War II. While there, he became inspired by the west coast’s fresh seafood restaurants-so much so that when he returned to Tampa, the Whitesides added fish sandwiches to the Colonnade’s menu.
Over time, Lois’ grandsons Jack “Smokey” and Dickey Whiteside took over the family business. They had both earned restaurant management degrees from Florida State University, but their history at the restaurant has included taking on virtually every job-even the dirtiest.
“If you think you’re too good to be the dishwasher, you don’t deserve to own a restaurant,” Smokey says.
Nowadays you can likely find Smokey inside the Colonnade’s Shipwreck Lounge, having lunch with his wife at their favorite corner booth.
Tradition is strong at the restaurant, and many employees have remained loyal for decades. Old black and white photos and Whiteside family fishing certificates hang from the walls. The key lime and coconut cream pies served daily are Lois’ original recipes. Year after year, Plant High graduates return to their stomping grounds for reunions. And the old curbside-burger-join-turned-seafood restaurant also attracts today’s school kids. They show up in tuxedos and formal dresses on prom night, exchanging corsages and boutonnieres under the old oak tree.
With all this history, some of it has been lost in translation over the last 73 years, and every family member seems to tell Colonnade’s story a little differently.
“You never think you’re going to be around this long, so you don’t know to save pictures or write down the history,” says Smokey’s wife, Mary Anne Whiteside. Just another part of Colonnade’s charm.