Signs of the Times

April 28th, 2008
Sign in Fred's Window Today

Not quite a year ago, Sarasota began buzzing with the news that Fred’s Restaurant in Southside had closed its doors “for renovations.” Of course, we learned later that those renovations referred more to paper restructuring and property divestiture than to sheet-rock and two-by-fours.

After that, the palm trees wrapped in twinkle lights went dark; Fred’s sat fallow for nearly seven months.

This morning, barely six months after Fred’s splashy reopening in December of 2007, Southside residents will be chewing on the news that Fred’s has closed—again. This time around, the message is unambiguous: a simple sign on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper proclaims “Fred’s Restaurant has gone out of business. Thank you.

Talk about eye-openers. This cocktail has more ingredients than a fusion martini: chutzpah, anticipation, high-rolling risk, and glitz. And now, the chasers: at least one part schadenfreud and more than a dash of bitters.

A lot of hard-working and optimistic people are out on the street, where there are fewer and fewer places they can fill out a job application. And those places don’t hold nearly the promise that Fred’s II once did.

All of this is especially sobering for us. Late in 2007, we had been part of the cheering section for the “the new Fred’s.”

But this obit is even more stunning because it hits with the news that Petrella Bros. on the South Trail locked its doors just before this past weekend. Sadly, these closures speak volumes about the current vulnerability of many of the more ambitious restaurants in Sarasota.

Those sub-prime mortgages built a super-sized house of cards. As the collapse of our local economy claims an ever-growing list of casualties, we hope that the restaurant professionals with talent and experience have the reserves and optimism to tough it out. If they do, they’ll be the first to benefit when the financial chaos subsides.

In the meantime, the lawyers, bankers, locksmiths, and auctioneers are too busy to cook. The out-of-town investors don’t know where to get the best meals… now their choices have narrowed by two. And who will feed the vultures?


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