Council’s closes doors after 90 years in business

Lawton Smith, owner of Council’s Burgers in downtown Bradenton announced he has closed the 90-year-old business as of Monday.
Lawton Smith, owner of Council’s Burgers in downtown Bradenton announced he has closed the 90-year-old business as of Monday. myoung@bradenton.com

It’s been a local favorite for 90 years and in Council Smith’s family for 80, but on Monday, the historic Council’s Burgers quietly closed its doors.

Named Council’s Burgers in 1936, Council Smith operated the burger joint about a block or two away from its current location at 536 12th St. W. He moved it in 1954, and it has served what many residents call the best burger in town ever since. Lawton Smith, Council’s son, took over operations in the 1970s.

Now, he says, it’s just time to let it go.

“I don’t want to,” Smith said. “It’s a sad thing, but I just can’t do it anymore. 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.”

Smith closed its doors Monday, but on Thursday people were still strolling up to the front doors looking for their favorite burger.

“No one really knows yet,” Smith said. “I haven’t heard from a lot of people, but most have been very encouraging. They know I just can’t do it physically anymore. People are telling me I’ve done my time, so they’ve been very understanding. It’s just reached a point where it’s too hard on me.”

Reactions filled with shock and dismay ran up and down Old Main Street on Thursday as the news quickly spread that Council’s Bradenton Recreation, as it’s known today, was done.

“I’m shocked,” said Jan Pomroy, a local who works downtown. “I couldn’t even tell you how I feel because of the shock. It’s just hard to believe.”

Heather Puccio has worked downtown for 20 years.

“I wish I would have known, I would have ran over for one last burger,” she said. “It’s been a staple of this downtown.”

William Price, of the law offices of William Price just a few doors down, was philosophical about the news.

“It is disappointing,” said Price. “But the landscape of downtown Bradenton is changing, and we who are still here look forward to seeing new business and new industry come to downtown.”

Smith said running a small operation is tough these days.

“There’s a difference between myself and having a bigger operation where there are 30 to 40 employees,” he said. “If someone calls in, you have plenty who can cover. But I have to be here all the time and I just can’t do it anymore.”

The 65-year-old Smith said it was time to think about days off, vacations and spending time with his dog “Tuffy.”

“He’s been pretty confused the last few days since I’ve been home a lot more,” he said with a smile. “I just hope someone steps up and carries on the tradition.”