Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Restaurateur Woody Gilbert specialized in Greek salad, charm

TAMPA — At 90, Woody Gilbert was still driving his BMW convertible from bar to bar on nights out, sipping Scotch and flirting with women.

The restaurateur and founder of Woody's Famous Greek Salads enjoyed storytelling, and had an endless trove of life experiences to choose from.

He was best known locally for building a take-out restaurant around a single item: a Greek salad inspired by Louis Pappas' Riverboat, a restaurant Mr. Gilbert once managed.

Since the first Woody's restaurant opened in 1973, the menu has lengthened and several locations have come and gone.

One restaurant on S Dale Mabry remains a busy lunch spot.

All that's missing lately has been its glad-handing namesake.

Mr. Gilbert died Sunday at an assisted living facility. He was 95.

He got the idea when the Riverboat closed in 1973, leaving a culinary void. "You could not get a Greek salad in Tampa," said David Gilbert, his son, 58.

At least, not that Greek salad. Tarpon Springs restaurateur Louis Pappas, who died in 1952, is credited with inventing an Americanized Greek salad, one built around a core of olive oil-based potato salad.

Mr. Gilbert, who had lost his manager's job when the restaurant closed, told his son about his idea: a take-out restaurant serving only Greek salad, modeled after the Pappas creation.

"I said, 'What are you going to call it?' " his son recalled.

"He said, 'Woody's.' I said, 'That ain't Greek.' "

Mr. Gilbert said he would name his own restaurant whatever he pleased.

According to his son, Mr. Gilbert hired a woman who had prepared salads at the Riverboat. The first Woody's Famous Greek Salads opened at El Prado Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway.

By the late 1970s, Woody's restaurants had locations in downtown Tampa, Carrollwood and Temple Terrace. Danielle Ward, Mr. Gilbert's daughter, led a move to add sandwiches and soups.

The only Woody's still left, in Palma Ceia, has been operating for 21 years.

"We served good-looking, wealthy women," said David Gilbert. "My dad and I were happy serving that clientele."

Born in Dade City to a pioneer family, Mr. Gilbert attended Stetson University. The extended family migrated to Tampa, where a brother, John, became a circuit judge and a cousin, Chesterfield Smith, founded the Holland & Knight law firm.

Mr. Gilbert entered the Army Air Corps in 1942, piloting bombers over the Pacific. He was awarded a dozen medals or ribbons, including the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.

Some of his most memorable exploits occurred after the war. A career Air Force pilot, Mr. Gilbert rescued a stranded British expedition on the ice caps of Greenland. He later flew German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun to the United States, his son said.

Mr. Gilbert left the Air Force in 1963 with the rank of major. He worked as a maitre d' for Bern's Steak House and managed the Riverboat for three years.

"He could take abuse from people and just smile," his son said. "You never saw the guy angry."

His 30-year marriage to his first wife, Wynelle, ended in the late 1970s.

In the mid 1990s he asked his son to introduce him to a woman he had noticed. Kathryn O'Reilly, then in her late 60s, had worn a leather miniskirt, vest and hat to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.

"She was hot," David Gilbert said. "I would have taken her out."

They were married for several years, until Kathryn died a decade ago.

Into his early 90s, his son said, "He had girlfriends half his age. He bar-hopped."

His children eventually confiscated Mr. Gilbert's driver's license. In recent months, he lived at Hudson Manor Assisted Living Facility.

He had a girlfriend there, too.

"They would hold hands in their wheelchairs," his son said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or


Woodrow Wendell "Woody" Gilbert

Born: April 24, 1915

Died: Jan. 9, 2011

Survivors: daughters Danielle Ward and her husband, Scott, Melissa Hassan and her husband, Khaled; sons David, Joseph and Jon Gilbert; brother John M. Gilbert and his wife, Jean; sister Clarice Mills; six grandchildren; numerous nieces and nephews.

Service: 11 a.m. today; Blount and Curry Funeral Home, 605 S MacDill Ave., Tampa.

Restaurateur Woody Gilbert specialized in Greek salad, charm 01/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 11:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: Turn the heat up on AC problem in Hillsborough schools


    Hillsborough County School District students do not want to hear that their buildings are decrepit. They do not want to hear that Florida's legislators are complicit. All they want to hear is the sweet sound of a classroom air conditioner kicking in at full power. Anything less creates uncomfortably hot classrooms and …

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins and the current Hillsborough County School Board did not create this air conditioning mess, but they own it now.
  2. Man in bunny mask part of trio that breaks into Odessa McDonald's to haul away ATM


    ODESSA — A man in a bunny mask and two also-masked accomplices broke into a McDonald's early Wednesday, hoisted an automatic teller machine into a stolen minivan, then dumped the ATM and the van into a pond, deputies say.

    Three masked men, including one in a bunny mask, broke into an Odessa McDonald's early Wednesday and stole the ATM.
 [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest


    Plan your weekend


    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times
  4. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, is proposing an end to public financing of campaigns. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  5. Jeb Bush on the 'most ridiculous example of political correctness in history'


    Jeb Bush on ESPN's decision to pull commentator Robert Lee from a football broadcast at the University of Virginia.