Seafood Shack to remain in business after sale

CORTEZ -- The Canadian real estate company that has purchased the Seafood Shack plans to keep the restaurant and its adjacent marina running as they have for the past 42 years, only more so.

VANDYK USA, a Sarasota subsidiary of Ontario-based VANDYK Companies, announced Monday it will not only continue operating the restaurant and marina with its staff and management in place, but it will also bring paddlewheel boat cruises back for the first time in about a decade.

John Vandyk, VANDYK Companies president, said his company's $4 million investment in the 6-acre property gives it control of a unique destination with a long track record of success.

"This is going to change my life," said the part-time Sarasota resident and boater. "There isn't another intracoastal marina between Sarasota and Tampa."

Although VANDYK is involved in real estate development to the tune of more than $500 million in assets, Vandyk said his company's aim in Cortez is to preserve a successful destination and businesses. The Seafood Shack property is home to several businesses, including the 26,000-square-foot restaurant, the 68-slip marina, water recreation company H2O and Annie's Bait and Tackle.

Vandyk didn't rule out adding to his company's new property. VANDYK is already active in Sarasota as a developer and is building two exclusive condominium developments there.

"We don't have any future plans for development on Cortez," he said. "That's not to say in the future we won't be looking at it."

The commitment to the existing businesses at and around the Seafood Shack will nearly double VANDYK's workforce, bringing it to about 200. In addition, it has the company committing to a long-term renovation program that started two weeks ago with fresh paint and remodeling bathrooms.

Stephen Ananicz, the chief operating officer for VANDYK's destinations division, said many small changes will be made over the next few months to build back business

he said has slipped in recent years. A former COO for Anna Maria-based restaurant company The Chiles Group, Ananicz said the Seafood Shack will get a revamped menu this month, and will see dinner service on the first and second floors by January. VANDYK is installing all new kitchen equipment and will bring in new furniture.

Also expected in the coming months is the arrival of a paddlewheel boat. The acquisition will replace the 120-foot boat that took customers on sunset cruises during the first 32 years of operations at the Seafood Shack.

Mary Dewey, a former longtime Seafood Shack employee, said "The Showboat" brought a lot of fun to restaurant customers over the years.

"They would all come back for dinner and receive a discount in the upstairs dining room," she said. "Many weddings and company parties have fond memories of their times on the intracoastal."

Vandyk said his company is a long-term property owner that tends to hang onto properties throughout their useful lifespan.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.