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Vintage St. Pete: Ted Peters’ unlikely fish tale

Bill DeYoung



Pasadena Avenue was just two narrow, patchwork lanes when Ted Peters bought a single acre of mangroves and sand in 1950. There were fruit stands but not much retail in the scrubby, salty wilderness, no professional buildings, no apartment complexes, no condo towers. The two gas stations on Pasadena had above-ground tanks.

You could cast a line right into the water across the road. Peters had to build a seawall, and backfill the rear of his property, to keep Boca Ciega Bay out. He hand-made the seawall out of palm trees, railroad ties and tar paper.

Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish is still there, on the same land and in the same brown open-air wooden building Ted built with his half-brother and business partner Elry Lathrop, for their hard-earned and saved-up $15,000.

Mike Lathrop, Elry’s son, now operates Ted Peters along with Jay Cook, Ted’s grandson. During the busy season, they go through around 2,000 pounds of fish per week.

1950s postcard: The first version of Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish. That’s Grandma Peters’ 1951 Pontiac parked out front.

Lathrop has a theory about the restaurant’s extraordinary staying power. “There’s always been family members here that had an invested interest, no matter how hard they had to work or what they had to do, to make it run and run right,” he said. “Most people don’t have a lot of family that wants to continue in a restaurant, so they end up letting somebody manage it for them. And that’s why it usually goes away.”

Just like Ted and Elry, they’ve refused all offers to sell the business – and, make no mistake, theirs is prime real estate. Has been since the ‘60s, when the population exploded.

Lathrop is proud that multiple generations of families know and love the place. “People just wanted to go back to something that always looked the same,” he explained, “and always felt the same. And people keep saying to me: ‘Don’t mess this up. We want to come in here and see ugly green cafeteria plates.’

“Which, by the way, are very expensive.”

Photo: Peters/Lathrop family archive.

Ted Peters was a master plumber in World War II-era Olean, N.Y. After his parents split, his mother married Elry’s dad, and the extended, blended family made its way, over time, to St. Petersburg. Nobody missed the New York winters.

He was a dreamer, a hard worker and something of an opportunist, and he took a job at the Fisherman’s Co-op on Madeira Beach.

“When Ted first got to Florida, to make money he went out to the beach, collecting fish from the co-op in a washtub with some ice,” said Lathrop, who grew up in St. Petersburg. “And he would go down to the south side of St. Pete where people didn’t have cars, and he’d go door to door selling fish.”

One afternoon in 1946 he found an old, discarded fish smoker – a rough wooden box with sliding trays and space for a small bed of fire at the bottom – and dragged it home.

Soon he’d opened a restaurant – an old shack, really, with a hotplate and a couple of barstools inside – on Blind Pass Road. The Blue Anchor Inn’s specialty was smoked mullet, a bony but tasty local fish that was readily available in local waters (by net – mullet don’t generally bite on hooks). He fueled it with buttonwood mangrove branches.

“Everybody that smoked fish did it in their back yards, or in the woods,” Lathrop said. “Nobody had ever put it up on the side of the road. That was Ted’s claim to fame.

“He attached the old smoker to a telephone pole, which had a telephone booth on the other side of it. Whenever Ted would hear one of those old cars coming down the road – because they traveled so slow – he’d go out there and open the smoker up.

“And as it was smoking, the smoke would waft over and fill the phone booth with smoke. People would pull in and say ‘Hey, your phone booth’s on fire.’”

Inevitably, they’d leave with a belly full of mullet, and some of Grandma Peters’ family recipe German potato salad. She started whipping it up because she‘d grown tired of hand-cutting potatoes for French fries.

In late summer and fall, when business was slow, Ted and Elry became stone crabbers, and sold their catch to the local Mediterranean restaurants. Grandma and the boys’ wives ran the restaurant in their absence.

South Pasadena, in 1951 when Ted Peters and Elry Lathrop moved in, was an unincorporated part of Pinellas County known as Coreytown. Most of the businesses on the trail were after-hours bottle clubs; Coreytown was rough and it was lawless – the police did not patrol there.

Coreytown was abolished when local property owners – spurred on by Ted and Elry – pushed to incorporate the area as South Pasadena (they needed a minimum of 25 registered voters to do so). With this came blue laws – no drinking allowed after midnight – and the end of the bottle clubs.

Ted Peters was looking ahead. St. Petersburg Beach was being developed at a rapid clip. As the main thoroughfare to the beach, Pasadena Avenue would soon be clogged with traffic. And that meant customers for his smoked mullet and king mackerel, his secret-recipe fish spread and his mom’s potato salad and fruit pies.

He built a bigger smokehouse – without an attached phone booth – to catch folks by the nose.

Although they’d both served in the Armed Forces during the war, it was Elry who went to college (on the GI bill). He’d take the summer off and run the restaurant while Ted stretched his legs. They had a one-month-on, one-month-off arrangement that lasted pretty much until Elry’s death in 1990.

His dad and his uncle, Lathrop recalled, had built a special life for themselves and their families.

“They came to Florida to enjoy Florida. And they loved Florida. They liked to play golf, they liked to scallop, they liked to oyster. They loved to fish. They loved just being on the water. These guys were all about fun – that’s why they didn’t want to own multiple restaurants.”

They worked just enough to keep the business successful, and earn a comfortable living. Ted bought and sold property, and he and Elry invested in Englewood, a rustic fishing village in Sarasota County.

He was married to Elena, his New York sweetheart, for nearly 60 years. She passed in 1993.

Although Peters eventually retired from the day-to-day restaurant business, he stopped by every morning. Sitting at a corner barstool, nursing a cup of coffee, he’d glad-hand the customers, telling stories about the old days, and give the waitresses a good-natured hard time.


“How long has Ted Peters been dead?”

The waitress called Surly Shirley leans across the counter, scowls and points left.

“He’s sitting next to you.”

From his well-worn stool, silver-haired Ted Peters beams with pleasure. He has big white teeth and eyes blue as the back of a tuna. He’s small, wiry and wizened like a man who has spent many decades toiling in a smokehouse – which he has.

Jeff Klinkenberg/St. Petersburg Times

Dec. 15, 1999

Well into his ninth decade, Ted was full of energy. He loved to dance – he had a (younger) girlfriend –  and was a frequent visitor to the Oasis Pub on Corey Avenue, where he’d bellow along tunelessly to the oldies performed by the house band.

In February, 2001, he was darting across Gulfport Boulevard, around the corner from the institution that still bears his name, when he was struck by an automobile driven by a 94-year-old woman. He died three days later. He was 91.

Mike Lathrop in the smoker building. “You could always get a mullet, even when I was in junior high school,” remembers Ted Peters’ nephew, 72. “No self-respecting kid didn’t know how to sharpen a stick and snatch a mullet. You could always sell ‘em, you could always smoke ‘em. You always had something to eat.” Photo: Bill DeYoung.

There have been changes. Mangrove was outlawed as a fuel source more than 50 years ago; the restaurant uses red oak exclusively. Until the use of purse seines and gill nets was abolished in the ‘90s, area mullet populations dwindled. Now, the fish are taken almost exclusively with cast nets – and, according to Mike Lathrop, they’ve come back strong.

Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish buys its mullet and Spanish mackerel exclusively from Gulf Coast fishermen. Mahi mahi is sourced from Florida. Salmon, which Mike Lathrop added to the menu a number of years ago, is imported. These days, “It’s our biggest seller. By a bunch.”

The restaurant is still on a cash-only basis, but that will probably be changing at some point. The future never sleeps.

What won’t change, Lathrop is sure, is the “family-operated” nature of the business.

Richard Carroll is general manager. “Richard’s married to Ted’s great-granddaughter,” he said. “So his children are Ted Peters’ great-great grandchildren. And who knows, they may get shanghaied into working at the restaurant, too. Richard and I are talking about it already.

“That’s how it happens here. I got shanghaied into this. I was supposed to work for two weeks.”

The first version of this story was published in August 2018. This revised version will appear in the book Vintage St. Pete and Vintage Pinellas Volume 3.

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  1. Avatar

    Jim Simpson

    December 17, 2023at7:18 pm

    My father(RIP) knew Ted. Every time I was in town he and I would have lunch at Ted Peters. Great memories.

  2. Avatar

    Matthew Weidner

    December 14, 2023at9:50 pm

    i absolutely LOVE the place….but I drive past it often and cannot eat there because i dont have cash. i would love to bring friends or clients but cannot because i cant throw down a card and expense out a lunch or dinner. PLEASE start taking credit cards….you cannot imagine all the business you’re missing.

  3. Avatar

    katherine vaseliades

    December 14, 2023at2:14 pm

    best GERMAN Potato salad and smoked fish

  4. Avatar

    Scott Remick

    December 14, 2023at10:29 am

    We had friends that knew Ted’s family and were gifted with the smoked fish spread and potato salad recipes. They in turn gifted them to my mom who has improved on them a bit. Amazing. I still stop in for a cheeseburger every so often and have been eating there since I was a kid in the 60’s.

  5. Avatar

    Bertie Segers

    September 11, 2023at7:56 am

    Love eating at Ted Peter’s, have not been there for a while!

  6. Avatar

    Carol Edge

    January 10, 2023at6:38 am

    Ted Peters has the best German potato salad I’ve ever eaten. I prefer the delicious salmon. Enjoy eating outside and if it gets hot or too bright they pull the shades down. Perfect Florida restaurant in my opinion! No longer have my home on Treasure Island but visit and eat there
    every time I come down to St.Petersburg.

  7. Avatar

    Cynthia Buie Astle

    January 12, 2022at6:56 am

    We go to Ted Peters’ every time we come back to Florida to see family. It’s one of the few places left from our glorious youth in the ’50s and ’60s. Plates are big enough to share! Best darn German potato salad anywhere. Long may Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish live!

  8. Avatar


    January 9, 2022at5:56 pm

    One of my favorites in St. Pete!!!!!

  9. Avatar

    Debbie Melson

    January 9, 2022at12:19 pm

    I love stories of hard working people finding their niche and loving what they do.
    I do respect the longevities of this hard working family.
    The restaurant business of any kind is not for the weak or undisciplined.
    Hope it continues and reaches more generations of this family.

  10. Avatar

    David Martin

    January 9, 2022at3:00 am

    Wonderful article! I love eating at this classic place,and I hope they don’t ever change it! It is nice to know the ” Rest of the story” Thank you!

  11. Avatar

    Velva Heraty

    January 9, 2022at1:01 am

    Terrific, well written article that draws the reader into our extensive culinary history. I’ve always preferred chef owner restaurants for the reasons stated. Love to see a story about another chef fisherman, Jason, owner/ chef at Bricks and Mortar on Central in St. Pete.

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