Heilman's Beachcomber Traditions Endure
By Renee Burrell
CLEARWATER BEACH - You'll find Heilman's Beachcomber Restaurant at 447 Mandalay Avenue has so much to offer and is the perfect lunch or dinner spot. Bob Jr. and wife Sheri Heilman, along with general manager Jack Herr and a dedicated staff, have been running the Clearwater institution for the past 30 years in keeping with the high standards the restaurant's founder, Bob Heilman Sr. set 60 years ago.
The Beachcomber's reputation for consistently serving great food and service, with valet parking, white linens and candlelight, is common knowledge locally. The dining areas are posh and promote a club-like atmosphere. One is what you would expect from an upscale Florida establishment, with an elegant nautical motif and lots of light, the other is more intimate and dark with splashy art and a lounge. The different seating options and ambience will suit your mood or your party's reason for dining out. For informal dining, the adjacent Bobby's Bistro & Wine Bar offers more alternatives.
An old family recipe for "back-to-the-farm chicken," fried in an iron skillet is a specialty and a favorite with kids. The menu offers an array of fresh seafood, dry aged premium beef, veal, prime rib, lamb and other items exemplifying the best in American Continental cuisine.
You know once seated that you are in for a special dining experience. Along with the chicken, a very nice touch that has endured is the immediate presentation of a relish tray and homemade bread.
It's no wonder that locals consider Heilman's their favorite restaurant and know they can count on being more than just satisfied with the food and servers. Perhaps Sheila Cole, the executive director of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce can best give a testimonial to the Heilman family's knack for restaurant perfection better than anyone else-- and it's not because they are chamber members. Cole witnessed the Heilman family's dedication as restaurant operators before she ever dined in their Clearwater Beach restaurant.
"As a small child growing up in Lorain, Ohio, the original home of Heilman's Restaurant and The Ranch House Coffee Shop, to moving to Clearwater 19 years ago and finding my favorite fried chicken right here on the beach, I have always admired the fact it remained a 'family' business. Heilman's continues as the second generation carries on the family tradition."
The founder, Heilman Sr., 86, passed away last month. Aside from running the business, he made his mark in the food service industry serving on boards and as president for state and national restaurant associations. In 2005, he was honored by the Chamber of Commerce with a Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing his contributions to the community for over 50 years.
It was Heilman Sr's policy to keep the restaurant open 365 days a year since its inception, and even after his retirement decades ago, it has been.
When Heilman Sr. left the business, Bob Jr. and wife Sherri, along with Herr, followed the trail he blazed. Not only has Heilman Jr. and his staff kept up the original traditions, he brought new offerings to the family's business table when opening Bobby's Bistro, named for his son Robert III, and when he added the county's largest collection of wine, including some from his own Foxy Rock vineyard in Oregon. Their international inventory consists of more than 20,000 bottles. Wine Spectator magazine gave Bobby's Bistro their "Best of Award of Excellence".
For a family business to endure and maintain its excellent reputation 30 years after the founder leaves, the successor's merit must be of the same vein!
For more information on Beachcombers, phone 727-442-4144. For Bobby's Bistro, phone 727-446-WINE.
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