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Sunday Favorites: Hidden Swimming Hole

New Pass Grill

We all love the beach. But, lets be honest, sometimes it’s a pain in the to go, from the crowds to the parking to the tourists.

Florida is defined by its beaches, no doubt, but thankfully there are tons of tucked away waterfront spots, places that locals know about and are just as great, if not better, than beaches packed with sun-seekers.

Having just moved to Sarasota County, Drew and I have had the chance to find some of those places and we pride ourselves on seeking out those spots whenever we can.

During one of our discovery missions we found "New Pass Grill," a bait shop and restaurant nestled next to the New Pass Bridge to Longboat Key on John Ringling Parkway, a place that has changed hands and names since the early 1920's, but has served generations of fishermen over the decades.

It was a busy Sunday when we arrived, with fishermen alongside families, chomping on burgers and dogs, drinking cold beers and enjoying the day. Right off the bat we fell in love because we paid $13 for two hot dogs and a six-pack, but when we started to learn the history of the place, we liked the spot even more.

Founded in 1929, the bait shop was built following the construction of a drawbridge over New Pass, which connected Longboat Key to what was previously known as City Island. The original structure sat away from the water, on a hill, that overlooked the pass and drew fisherman year round.

The bait shop operated until the late 1940's, when it was then moved down the hill and on to state property by the Byrd family, who leased the land from the state and re-christened the bait shop as a fish camp, where Dan and Daisy Byrd lived with their children Dan Jr. and Cay.

The family lived at the camp for four years; in 1950 they began selling burgers to fishermen and neighborhood kids, which sort of split the fish camp's function, although the Byrds didn't know it at the time. Of course, they also didn't grasp a new concept they started; creating their signature cuisine item, the "thickburger," which is still sold to this day.

In a shocking move, the Byrd family moved to Alaska and sold the fish camp, but when they returned a few years later, they took back the burger side of things, while the bait shop and fish camp was being operated by a man named Hollis Wadley.

The bait shop moved here and there, across the pass, on top of the bridge in a mobile capacity, while the Byrd family continued to flip and sell more and more burgers.

The fish camp changed hands several times, while the Byrds operated the restaurant; decades passed, a new bridge was built and Dan Byrd Sr. died in the mid 1970s.

A shrimper named Carl Sadler was operating the bait shop side of things at the time of Byrd's death, using the back of his truck to sell bait to the thousands of people who fished off of the bridge throughout the year.

It was Sadler who eventually purchased the land and built the structures next to the bridge that exist today. He eventually sold the business to a father and son duo named Jim and Don Wallace, who had never fished in their lives, but it was a perfect fit and they own it till this day.

Jim Wallace estimates he's sold 700,000 of the famous thickburgers since taking over the business in 2000 and expanded the brand to open a "new" New Pass Grill location on St. Armand's Circle, about ten minutes from the famed original location.

Today, you can go by boat, by car, or just walk on over to the New Pass Grill. Or you can get one of the famous thickburgers in the shopping and dining center of St. Armand's.


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