Between Clearwater and Fort De Soto, hundreds of thousands of people will descend on Pinellas County beaches this Fourth of July holiday. It’s a good bet that lots and lots of them will stop in for a snack, or a cold drink, at the venerable Paradise Grille on Pass-a-Grille Beach.
An historic building, it’s the only concession stand located directly on the beach, across Gulf Way from other Pass-a-Grille businesses.
The St. Pete Beach City Commission voted in May not to extend the lease agreement with Michael Janacek, owner of Paradise Sweets (a confection shop also located in Pass-a-Grille).
Janacek, who’s held the Paradise Grille lease for a decade, was one of five concessionaires bidding on a restructured lease in May.
“I spent 10 years of my life and put my heart and soul into it,” he said during a commission meeting. “I rebuilt the place. Give us a chance to continue working with you, any way you want. We’re definitely willing to do anything you want us to do.”
United Park Services, Inc., which operates a Pinellas County-owned concession stand for at Fort De Soto Beach, and the Mad Beach Snack Shack Madeira Beach, was awarded the new lease. Under the terms, the company will pay $12,750 monthly to operate both the beachside concession and a second, smaller Pass-a-Grille location, Upham Beach.
United Park Services impressed the commissioners by pledging to update the facility with new kitchen equipment, tables, chairs and umbrellas.
Last month, Janacek’s company was issued a temporary lease extention while the contract with UPS is being negotiated. According to commissioner Terri Finnerty, it didn’t make much sense to close the facility down – especially during a peak holiday period – only to re-open.
Janacek will continue to operate Paradise Grille through the end of August, and perhaps longer, until the new operators can move in.
The Paradise Grille location has a rich history. The La Plaza Hotel and Casino was constructed on the beachfront site in the early 20th century; the hotel burned down in 1922 and was re-built. By then it was known as the Pass-a-Grille Hotel.
Pass-a-Grille was incorporated into the city of St. Pete Beach in 1957; exactly 10 years later, the Pass-a-Grille Hotel burned to the ground.
In 1969, St. Petersburg businessman Phil Gernhard – who’d produced national hit records including “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” and “Abraham, Martin and John” – lobbied the commission to build and operate a concession stand on the large site, which he estimated would cost around $45,000.
A vocal group of concerned citizens argued that the new facility would be tantamount to just another bar.
“What we want to build will be … a whole lot better than having the kids running across the busy street and go into a bar to buy soft drinks,” Gernhard told commissioners.
“Sure, we want to sell beer. People like it. But our lease would not permit a jukebox there or anything conducive to loitering, and we must close at sundown.”
The plan was approved in February, 1970, and construction began. Gernhard paid approximately $7,000 per month in rent to operate Pass-a-Grille Concessions until 1974, when he moved his music-business organization to California.