ST. PETERSBURG — Fans of Pepin restaurant showed up one last time Wednesday to buy a piece of their past, and auctioneer Greg Farner pulled at their heartstrings even more than the pompano a la sal ever tempted their palates.
"If you ever waited to go into Pepin, you probably sat on these benches," Farner of Bay Area Auction Services Inc. said as he talked up the first items up for bid. Each of the high-backed wooden benches went for $175. "That's $175 for a piece of history in St. Petersburg."
Pepin — the site of thousands of family celebrations, prom dates and business lunches — closed after 36 years on Jan. 30. A Hooters will open in its space. An auction open to the public Wednesday lasted all day and drew about 225 bidders plus 90 more online who emptied the restaurant of its furniture, appliances and Spanish decor down to the last bottles of salad dressing, Glenlivet scotch and Bombay gin.
"Hooters is going to leave the existing building but gut the inside. You won't even recognize it," Farner told the crowd of novice bidders, antique dealers and restaurant owners. As Farner auctioned more than 500 lots of individual or multiple items, his assistants often helped translate his fast talking to bidders or reminded them of their bid numbers if they forgot.
"This is the only set of bull horns I've got today," he called out from a small private dining room. Attorney Michael Kohl got the longhorns for $150. A tall, wooden pepper mill went for $60. Framed Dali prints sold for $15 and up. Decorative metal trays with handles went for $7. Someone paid $700 for the 28-foot-long bar and tiled overhang with lights.
Shannon Knowlton hoped to pick up a small memento.
"My husband and I came here when we were first dating, and a lot of Friday nights we joined his parents here," she said. "Oh, the grouper a la Rusa, that was my favorite. I loved the salad and the brown bread."
Dana Silver, a third-generation St. Petersburg resident, grew up going to Pepin every New Year's Eve and on Easter.
"The last week they were open, we ate twice here," Silver said. "I wanted to get a menu, but they were handing them out on paper. The owner said people were stealing them left and right."
Silver was hoping to bid on three large salad bowls for her kids, she said. The bowls had dents from years of waiters preparing the famous Pepin salads at tableside.
"We are heartsick they are closing," she said, "and for a Hooters."
Blake Kennedy and his three brothers took his father to eat at Pepin one last time in December. But he was at the auction buying some pieces for a friend as well as his business, Kennedy Brothers Auctions. He bought the two mahogany front doors with leaded glass windows, for $150 but sold them for $300 within an hour.
"Somebody heard me talking about them and asked me what I was going to do with them," Kennedy recounted. "I said, 'Sell them to you.' "
Why didn't the buyer bid on them himself?
"Some people who have never been to an auction before are unsure of themselves," Kennedy said, adding that often the best deals are at the beginning before everyone gets the hang of it.
Michelle Amons, who has a new business called 2 Shays Event Planning, hoped to buy some centerpieces and room dividers. "It helps to own stuff instead of renting it," she said. Later she was pleased to have gotten a set of four brass and wooden easels for $40.
As bidders left, they passed a chalkboard leaning against the wall. "Thank you all for 36 yrs. of fun and memories" was scribbled on it in white. This was lot No. 176. It sold for $2.50.