Landmark restaurant Rustic Inn under new ownership

The Rustic Inn, a Fort Lauderdale landmark known for its garlic crabs and newspaper-covered tables, has been bought by a New York-based restaurant group.

Ark Restaurants Corp. bought the restaurant, land and building from W and O Inc. for $7.5 million.

The restaurant at 4331 Ravenswood Road just west of I-95 and north of Griffin Road will stay open and there are no plans to make any changes, according to a Rustic Inn manager. The company declined to comment further.

Rustic Inn opened its doors in 1955 and has become a South Florida institution attracting locals, tourists and celebrities. Its founder, Henry Oreal, ran the business and passed it on to his sons. One of them passed away in 2009 and the other has retired. An estate had been managing the restaurant until its sale, Oreal said.
Oreal, now 90, remembers the Rustic Inn’s early days when “it was just beer and wine on the water.”

“What really made me was the crab, the garlic crab,” said Oreal, who now lives in Sebastian in Indian River County. “Crabs had been around thousands of years but the manner we cooked it was new to people. It took off like a balloon. Everyone loved it.”

Oreal credits Rustic Inn’s success over the decades not just to the food, but also to the team behind it.

“Good help was a big factor in our success. It’s not just one person,” Oreal said, adding that one of the managers has been with the company for nearly 30 years. “I also had good cooks from all over the country come to Florida looking for work.”

The waterfront joint best known for its crabs also has a seafood menu ranging from shrimp cocktails to spicy conch salads to New England clam chowder. Its family style fisherman’s platter includes samplings of frog legs, alligator bites, mussels with crab sauce and Key West shrimp. Florida stone crabs are on the menu in season.

Oreal hopes the new owners carry on Rustic Inn’s appeal.”For their sake, they should keep it exactly as it is,” he said. “It’s productive, making money.” Oreal said Ark’s background and their offer won him over. Ark’s portfolio includes restaurants in Las Vegas, Boston and New York City, according to its website.

The Rustic Inn’s purchase was completed Feb. 24 and the $7.5 million purchase price excludes inventory and closing costs, according to SEC filings.

Source:  South Florida Sun-Sentinel