FORT WALTON BEACH – Staff’s Restaurant has been a fixture downtown for nearly 100 years. These days it doesn’t look like it will make it to its centennial.
Fifth generation family members blame the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a long wait for claims money from BP and fewer customers for putting them on the brink of closure.
“We’ve been through the Great Depression, hurricanes and economic hard times, but the oil spill is what will shut us down,” said restaurant co-owner Martha Garvie. “To think this is what’s going to wipe us out … We’ve used all possible revenue that we could beg, borrow and steal, so to speak.”
No final decision has been made to close, but indicators point to that option.
Heather Ptaschek, an accountant for the restaurant, said Staff’s received an initial reimbursement for lost revenues last summer, but has gotten no money from additional claims.
She said under the 90-day review period, Staff’s should have received a check in mid-April. However, she was told there would be another 90 days of review before anything could happen.
“We’re not close to our numbers,” Ptaschek said. “If we can’t get the money and we don’t have the sales, we can’t make it. We’re down 261 people from the previous year and the previous April was terrible. Since the oil spill it’s been a complete and total nightmare.”
Staff’s opened in the family-owned Gulfview Hotel in 1913 and is one of the oldest restaurants in Florida, the sisters said. It moved to its present location on Miracle Strip Parkway in front of the hotel in 1931.
Garvie said she and her sisters were thinking of inviting anyone who has worked there to come out for the 100th anniversary.
“We got to thinking and realized that would probably be half of Fort Walton Beach,” Garvie said. “I know a lot of people would be really saddened if we say, ‘We’ve had it.’ It’s just that we’re sitting here and there’s nothing left.”
Cissy Wyninegar, a co-owner with her sisters, said the family was banking on the claims money they had filed for in January.
“We felt for sure we would get something in April. I don’t know if we’re going to make it,” Wyninegar said to her sister, Garvie. “Do you think we’re going to make it?”
Prices have gone up for food and services, they said. For example, a pound of shrimp that cost $5.30 last year now goes for $8.10.
The sisters said with the higher costs and less revenue, they don’t see how they can survive without the claims money.
Wyninegar said if the restaurant closes it can never open again because of city codes.
“This place has been grandfathered in in so many ways,” she said. “We’re sitting in a right of way right now.”
Co-owner Lili Hill, who manages the restaurant, doesn’t think it can stay open another 90 days. She said business is down 40 percent from last year, and last year the restaurant was down 40 percent from the previous year.
“We’re hoping for a good season this year, but nobody knows,” Hill said. “We’ve cut it to the core this year. I just don’t know.”