Food & Drink

Beloved Bradenton burger joint is for sale. Its future in downtown is unknown

Long-time Council’s customers hope the tradition lives on.

Long-time Council's customers hope the tradition lives on. Owners put the hamburger restaurant and pool hall on the market.
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Long-time Council's customers hope the tradition lives on. Owners put the hamburger restaurant and pool hall on the market.

Council’s Burgers, Beer and Billiards, also known as Council’s Bradenton Recreation, or simply Council’s, once again is for sale.

Owners Kimberly Duffy and Sandi Wagner, who bought the 93-year-old Bradenton landmark at 536 12th St. W. in 2017, say it was a tough decision to put the property on the market.

Unlike the previous owner, Lawton Smith, who stood over the grill and handmade each burger, Duffy and Wagner, tried to operate Council’s with hired staff. They also own and operate the Toasted Mango Cafe in Sarasota.

“We think maybe Council’s is more fit for a working owner,” Duffy said. “We hope the new owner will love it as much as we do and be the new Lawton.”

Duffy and Wagner bought Council’s after Smith closed the business in 2016.

“I don’t want to. It’s a sad thing, but I just can’t do it anymore,” Smith said at the time. “Council’s needs young blood. It needs a shot of young, and I’m hoping someone will step up and want to take it over. I would love to hear a year from now that those people who took over Council’s are doing a heck of a lot better than I ever did. It would put a smile on my face.”

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The owners of Council’s, located across the street from the Manatee County Historic Courthouse at 536 12th St. W., have the hamburger restaurant and pool hall on the market. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

Council’s, named after Smith’s father, Council Smith, had been in the Smith family for 80 years, and in its current location across the street from the Manatee County Historic Courthouse since 1954.

“A lot of people were excited that we were going to keep the legend alive,” Duffy said, remembering when she and Wagner bought the business. “It’s hard to take over a family business. We are sad to have to put it on the market. We would love to hang on to it.”

While Duffy and Wagner retained Council’s signature burger on a toasted bun, served on a napkin without fries, they also added new low-carb, keto-friendly items to the menu.

After Steve Olsen and Niles Williams picked up their Manatee High School football season tickets on Wednesday, they stopped by Council’s for burgers.

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Niles Williams, front, and Steve Olsen are long-time Council’s regulars who hope the Bradenton landmark remains open and true to its tradition. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

Olsen has been a Council’s regular since 1964, when he ordered two cheeseburgers with ketchup, mayonnaise, lettuce and onion, which remains his standing order.

“Lawton would remember you. I would walk in and he would put two cheeseburgers on the grill. Afterward, he would come down and we would trade war stories,” Olsen said. “I hope someone comes in and keeps Council’s open.”

Williams, who taught at Southeast High School his entire 39-year career, said Council’s epitomizes the word tradition.

“This is Bradenton,” Williams said.

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The owners of Council’s, located across the street from the Manatee County Historic Courthouse at 536 12th St. W., have the hamburger restaurant and pool hall on the market. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

“I knew a lot of guys who would come down and shoot pool here. It would be a real shame if this doesn’t continue as it is,” he said. “Friends who have moved away from Bradenton call and still ask about Council’s.”

Williams and Olsen noted, however, that there seems to be more competition and eatery choices in Bradenton than ever before.

“A lot of young people don’t know about Council’s,” Olsen said.

The 2,150-square-foot property, built in 1940, is listed on LoopNet for $430,000. The listing includes an option to take over the business and assets with the sale of the building.

A diverse variety of foods are available in Manatee County, and everyone has their own ideas about what's best.

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