By CHRISTI WOMACK, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
It was supposed to be a “soft opening.”
But if the crowds that filled the Old Salty Dog this week are an indication of what is to come, owners Philip Needs and Judy Fryer can expect plenty of business.
“There are no signs outside and people just started coming in,” Bruce Flynn, their nephew who works in operations, said.
The Old Salty Dog, an offshoot of landmarks of the same name on Siesta Key and City Island, coincides with the city’s efforts to redevelop its gateways. The restaurant, which overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway, officially opens next week by the Circus Bridge in Venice.
Flynn said the staff worked to accommodate the unexpected diners this week, though there were some one-hour waits involved.
“Ninety to 95 percent of the people are satisfied,” he said. “They are super understanding about it.”
Everything in the restaurant is new. The site was carved out of the north end of the Marine Max showroom. There are seats for about 170 diners, both inside and out, and parking for about 75 vehicles. Patrons can watch the boats come and go on the Intracoastal Waterway.
With the outdoor deck still smelling like freshly cut wood, prospective employees filled out applications Friday morning as other workers — in the kitchen, at the bar and the wait staff — honed skills they learned training at the Sarasota sites.
“It’s the nicest Dog of all of them,” Flynn said.
The name, curiously, comes from Needs’ past. A Brit, he served in the Merchant Navy.
“That’s what a Salty Dog used to be,” he said.
Then again, he said, the rock band Procol Harum had a 1969 album called “A Salty Dog.” Look up an image of the cover and one finds a sailor inside a life preserver ring. Needs’ dog got star billing in the similar restaurant logo.
That was a long time ago. The Siesta Key restaurant opened 28 years ago, followed three years later by the one on City Island.
The menu features their deep-fried hot dog featured on the “Man vs. Food” TV show and traditional English fish and chips, but fried food is just a small part of the menu, Flynn said. Fresh fish can be charbroiled or blackened. Salads, wraps and burgers also are available.
For the Venice site, Needs designed the bar. Half is inside, and the other half, resembling a boat hull, juts onto the deck.
As they work out the kinks in opening a new site, Flynn said he is open to ideas about hosting events that benefit local charities, especially animal welfare and women’s causes.
In time, live music is planned.
“It’s been a great reception,” Needs said. “Venice has some beautiful people.”