Willie’s Seafood in Valrico has been a Brandon staple for more than 45 years. The Robinson family owns the community-loved restaurant and the family recently made the very difficult decision to close Willie’s Seafood.
A message on the restaurant’s website said, “We would like to let all of you know that we have made the decision to close down Willie’s, the place for seafood. It was not an easy decision and a variety of reasons contribute to this choice. Many have noticed that the menu prices have increased 20 percent in two years. This has not touched the deficit caused by building repair, increased food costs and payroll increases.”
The Brandon community was saddened to find out this local landmark would be gone before the Christmas holidays.
“This was a family-owned and operated business,” Owner Maryellen Robinson said. “We had Bill’s mother, aunts, uncles, cousins and children working in the restaurant in the beginning. It was just all family.”
Like many other restaurants and businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on Willie’s.
“We have always been a big part of the community,” Robinson said. “We’ve sponsored little league teams, supported many FFAs and many community organizations held their meetings at our restaurant. My son and his wife have been running the restaurant for the last six years and then COVID hit. They had to shut down. They missed the snowbird season, but when they opened back up, they could only have 25 percent capacity. They still paid all their employees during the shutdown, but with the restaurant being an old building needing repairs and the cost to run it, it was just too much, so they made the decision to close it.”
Robinson said she’s not going to dwell on the sadness over having to close Willie’s, but she will focus on all the good memories and what could come in the future for the restaurant.
“Our customers are like our extended family,” Robinson said. “We’ve seen their children grow up, graduate high school and then college and then they get married. The grown-up children would bring their children to the restaurant too. I’m not sure what Willie’s will become next, but hopefully, in some shape or form, it will still be a part of our community.”
If you would like to see what the future holds for Willie’s Seafood, keep an eye on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WilliesThePlaceForSeafood.