Keeping things in the family and the community has always been important to the owners of Fat Willie’s Fish Camp in Valrico. When Willie’s announced back in December of 2020 that it would be closing its doors for good, the family and the community was heartbroken. So many local Brandon residents and beyond had fond memories of eating at Willie’s.
“2020 was a terrible year for so many,” said Willie’s family member Amanda Peterson. “For us, Bill (Willie) passed away suddenly from a stroke in January of 2020, and then the pandemic hit. We ended the year grieving even more the loss of Bill’s legacy when the restaurant closed. Now that Chris and Roy have stepped up with the support of family, dedicated friends, employees and customers, we have a sense of renewed hope and are feeling very excited about the future.”
The whole ‘Willie’s coming back to life’ process started with Peterson. She started a GoFundMe page for Willie’s and the response was astounding.
“The community has spoken loud and clear that Willie’s is not just the best seafood restaurant around, it’s a community center that offers a critical gathering place, especially during these difficult times,” Peterson said. “It is a piece of everyone’s history offering a sense of stability that is so important in the unknown present and future. Through discussions and social media posts, we have heard the heartfelt pleas to do something, anything, to stay open.”
While the Robinson family takes very seriously the social and emotional needs of our community, a business at heart is an economic machine.
“The family has examined the various economic needs in order to reopen,” Peterson said. “Bill Robinson’s nephew, Chris Pate, and close family friend, Roy Mireles, are stepping up ready to carry the mantle of the Willie’s legacy. They are investing their money, time and talents to rejuvenating the property, building and restaurant. Family and friends have donated sweat equity, working in the building to clean and organize; however, the 106-year-old building needs serious repairs in a few areas that we are struggling to accomplish economically.”
Peterson’s GoFundMe has raised more than $3,000.
“One specific area is the flooring throughout the kitchen and dining area. It needs a lot of repair and replacement to be functional and safe,” Peterson said. “We got a few estimates on flooring in the main dining areas and the best one came in at $4,800. So, the community donations are making a big dent in that expense. Next, we will be assessing the kitchen flooring, which will be a little more extensive. We are so [excited] to see the Fat Willie’s legacy continue. We have always felt that it is a special gathering place in our community.”
If you would like to donate to the Willie’s GoFundMe page, you can visit its link at https://gf.me/v/c/yrjb/save-williesthe-place-for-seafood. Willie’s hopes to reopen in late spring of 2021.