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After decades running the Colonnade, Tampa family watches it auctioned off piece by piece (w/video)

Auctioneer Robert Milic sells off items Wednesday at the Colonnade in South Tampa. Buyers took equipment, furniture and fixtures.
Published May 12, 2016

TAMPA — Jack "Smokey" Whiteside tried to relax as he sat with his wife, daughter and nephew on the old wooden benches outside the entrance of the Colonnade restaurant Wednesday morning.

A stream of people poured out the double doors hauling away the restaurant's insides: wicker chairs, glassware, ceiling fans, even the restroom sign.

After 80 years in business, the Whiteside family closed the restaurant last month when it sold the property at 3401 Bayshore Blvd. to a developer who plans to build luxury condos. On Wednesday they hosted a public auction and watched the historic restaurant dismantled before their eyes.

"This property has been in my family for 100 years," Whiteside, 72, said. "My father was born here. I've been here all my life."

The auction drew hundreds of people, including pragmatic restaurant owners looking for cheap plates and kitchen equipment; and nostalgic customers and former employees who wanted to bring home a piece of Tampa history.

"We went back and forth about doing an auction," said Mary Anne Whiteside, Smokey's wife. "So many customers came to us in the first week after we closed asking for everything."

It was too much to manage, so they passed it off to Tampa Liquidation Center, who came prepared Wednesday with a food truck and about 10 employees to sell thousands of items.

The only things the Whitesides grabbed before the auction were family photos that hung next to the entrance and a framed 3-by-5 piece of paper dated July 3, 1935 — an invitation in typed cursive from Dick and Jack Whiteside (Smokey's father and uncle) for the restaurant's opening.

Years prior, their mother, Lois "Manie" Whiteside, had coerced Dick and Jack into selling lemonade on the property. It was during the Great Depression, but the boys did well for themselves and eventually opened the restaurant with her. Their father, Dr. Richard Whiteside, was a prominent dentist in Ybor City at the time.

"It was closer to a food truck with a few stools," Mary Anne joked. The family couldn't settle on a restaurant name on their own, so they took suggestions. The Colonnade was submitted by a family friend, inspired by the columns on the original structure.

The business became so successful that, according to Whiteside family lore, the Colonnade sold the second most Coca Cola of any restaurant east of the Mississippi (the top seller was in Atlanta, the company's headquarters).

"We used to line up the glasses," Smokey said. Two squirts of syrup, fill with ice, then soda water and topped off with an olive. "Kids from Plant High School would come in by the hundreds and they'd just grab them," he said.

Dick and Jack met their wives at the restaurant, where servers brought the food to customers' cars and a burger or sandwich was 20 cents.

Over the years, the property was home to lemon trees, the former Whiteside family estate and a horse named Dynamite. Even today, the family has a deep connection to the land, and plans to relocate three squirrels that live on the property.

"We're all reliving the memories together," said Smokey's daughter, Stacey Whitfield. "We've had time to grieve, and we're so appreciative."

The family is private and has stayed largely out of the spotlight. "We were always about our customers and the employees," Mary Anne said. "Food Network made restaurant owners become rock stars. We were never like that."

At least 20 former employees also stopped by the auction Wednesday, paying their respects and taking some memories home.

Tim Eastwood, the kitchen manager of 25 years, said he has been taking some time off since the closing last month. He didn't need anything flashy — just a couple of glasses. He also plans to take some of the bamboo from the front of the restaurant.

"I know what it means," he said.

Though some family members and former employees cried during the daylong auction, Smokey remained stoic, maintaining his humor. "I could fire you for smoking out here," he laughed at one former employee. He admitted, though, that the event in many ways resembled a wake. The family and community were enduring a substantial loss.

"We kept this place open a long, long time," he said.

Contact Alli Knothe at aknothe@tampabay.com. Follow @KnotheA.

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