Santa Maria Restaurant
Santa Maria Restaurant started out in 1763 as a landing for ships to dock at and unload cargo, back when St. Augustine was still a fledgling city. Almost 200 years later, Louis and Marguerite Connell opened a restaurant on the crumbling landing, fixing up the structure so that it still survives today.
Cyndi Connell will be your guide as she takes you through an amazing history of one family's dream destined to survive:
My grandparents opened this restaurant back in 1949. Before they turned it into a restaurant, the pier was used as the main commercial fishing dock for importing seafood into the city. When the restaurant first opened it was just a little seafood shack called The Old Spanish Landing. There was open air seating over the water and it had a little Maritime Museum, a gift shop and a turtle in a pen.
After being opened for a while, my grandparents got the idea to throw old bread down to the fish that swam around the building and so started the tradition of "Feed the fish while you dine". Hundreds of fish come up to be fed, mostly Catfish and Mullet but there are also plenty of Trout, Sheephead, Reds and just about any kind of saltwater fish you can imagine. Some time in the mid 50s my grandfather made friends with a man who owned a boat that was a replica of the Santa Maria ship and allowed him to dock it behind the restaurant. People in town got into the habit of saying they were going to the Santa Maria and so he eventually changed the name of the restaurant. This is what it looked like in the 50s.
In 1964, Saint Augustine suffered its first major Hurricane, Hurricane Dora. This is what the restaurant looked like after the hurricane.
After Hurricane Dora my grandparents rebuilt the restaurant. It has always been a family run restaurant providing jobs for us all, Grandparents, Mom & Dad, Myself and my brothers, aunts, nieces, in-laws as well as many friends. In 1970 my grandfather died and my grandmother along with my Dad and Mom took over operations. My father being the builder at heart that he is has made the place what it is today after many many remodels. My grandmother passed away in fall of 2001. Since then my parents, Myself and my 2 brothers have been keeping the restaurant afloat. It has been a struggle to say the least and honestly every year it gets harder. But thanks to visitors and loyal customers, The Santa Maria is alive and well. The Santa Maria is a special kind of restaurant with a rich history unlike any other restaurant here in our great city. We hope to have the opportunity to serve you, so you too can be a part of it's grand legacy.