On the 43rd anniversary of Presley's death, Sarasota recalls a glancing encounter with the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
Before she was the owner of The Waffle Stop in Sarasota, when she was just waiting tables, Edith Barr Dunn received a generous tip from a singer passing through town.
It was 50 cents — more than the usual nickel or dime — but beyond that, there was little Barr Dunn remembered from the encounter.
It was one of the last times in American life that could happen.
A few months later, following his performance on the Ed Sullivan Show and subsequent explosion in popularity, Barr Dunn realized her above-average tipper was none other than a young Elvis Presley.
“He gave her a picture, and he signed it,” current Waffle Shop owner Dolly Hollinger said. “She threw it away because he wasn’t popular yet … she regretted it ever since.”
Hollinger tells the story well, because she’s told it many times before. Her former boss’ chance encounter with the soon-to-be king of rock and roll would define the Waffle Stop — Barr Dunn always encouraged Hollinger to play up the Elvis angle and decorate the restaurant with autographed photos, wall art and paraphernalia of the King.
Sarasota proper has its own history with Elvis, though the King’s arrival on the Suncoast was barely covered by local press in 1956. Presley died 43 years ago next week.
A young Elvis Presley played at the Florida Theatre, eventually to become the Sarasota Opera House, on Feb. 21 1956. Paid advertisements for the show listed 76-cent matinees and $1 evening shows.
Sarasota Opera House Marketing Director Lana Mullen said he played with the Blue Moon Boys, Justin Tubb, the Louvin Brothers and the Alabama Sound Dusters, the Carter Sisters and Benny Martin to a packed theater of screaming teenagers. Many of those young people are still fans to this day.
Keith Coleman can attest to that. The Tampa-based musician has been dressing up as Elvis Presley for events for decades. Coleman plays guitar, sings classic Elvis songs, tells stories of the King, and wears quite a few of his iconic suits. The Tennessee-born performer has spent hours and hours of research to fully immerse himself in the King, from stories of his past to learning exactly how to re-create his elaborate clothing.
“”(Elvis) was such a hit with the females from the era of the '50s through the '70s,” he said. ‘... You wouldn't believe the number of women that I've done shows for birthdays or anniversaries that have rooms dedicated to Elvis.”
Several of his performances have been in Sarasota — Coleman jokes he’s played Elvis for every country club in the area. One of his mainstays was Tony's Restaurant and Dinner Theatre.
It takes Coleman some time to make himself look exactly like the King, and it’s only taking longer — where he could once grow out sideburns, he now carefully puts on fake ones — but playing Elvis fits him like an old glove. He says before COVID he performed three shows a week for diehard Elvis enthusiasts.
The fire amongst Elvis’ fans has never really died. Hollinger says the Waffle Stop has served as a destination for countless Elvis fans throughout the years. They come to see where the King ate, and to enjoy seeing the ever-increasing amount of Elvis memorabilia Hollinger has received as gifts from people around the world.
“He came along at just the right time,” Coleman said. “There'll probably never be another one like him. Someone lucky enough to be the perfect storm.”
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