- January 9, 2013
As Café L’Europe ushers in its 50th anniversary this winter, new proprietor John Horne of Anna Maria Oyster Bar fame is bolstering the St. Armands locale and building toward the future.
Horne has spent more than 40 years in the local hospitality industry. He first started working during the summers at Fast Eddie’s Place on Anna Maria Island while completing his business degree at Clemson University. In 1995, he opened his first restaurant, Anna Maria Oyster Bar, on the City Pier in the town of Anna Maria, and several more locations followed. (The Anna Maria Island location moved to the Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach in 2015.) He’s now the head of Oysters Rock Hospitality, a five-location chain in the Manatee-Sarasota market with two more in the works.
Horne and his wife, Amanda, purchased Café L’Europe in February 2022 from former owners Ron and Julie Milton. The menu still offers longtime fan-favorite dishes, including the Duck à l’Orange and the French onion soup served in an onion, but the revamped interior and refreshed menu signify a new era for this historic hotspot.
It was always a special treat. I can remember going there as a family for my parents’ anniversary. I can even remember what I ate. There was an escargot appetizer and the entrée…was always duck. I’m a duck nut and try it everywhere I go. Café L’Europe is one of three places that stands out in the execution of duck. One is in Boston and the other was Chef Ray’s duck at Euphemia Haye. I can still remember eating duck there. It was that memorable. Incredible.
Oysters from various locations, seafood towers and Steak Diane.
We only hire nice people. You can’t train people to be nice; that’s an innate quality. No one walks into a restaurant to have a bad time or a bad experience. People want to have an excellent meal in a fun environment, served by knowledgeable staff who are nice and truly care about their guests.
An iconic restaurant that has been the place generations of people from Sarasota and all over the world have come to for celebrations, fancy first dates, marriage proposals, wedding receptions, Easter dinners complete with Easter bunnies, birthdays, anniversaries and moments of joy.
When I first started my restaurant life, I worked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and then I’d head to a pub and meet my buds to laugh about the day and retell stories about life in hospitality. Now, I’m still up early, looking to see how the restaurants did from reports each restaurant sends about staff, guests, meals and, unfortunately now, a lot about which product we can’t get due to supply chain issues. Recently, with the five construction/remodel/refresh projects we have going, I’ve been putting on my hard hat for an hour every day, keeping the projects moving forward.
We’re almost at seven restaurants; we have two more coming in the next four months. We have the best team. I can’t be in seven places at a time, but we can surround ourselves with the best people in the industry and let them run their restaurants and make sure their guests are all happy.
One is French Laundry, just because I’ve been to Napa several times and never made it in yet. Another is The Butcher’s Arm in Priors Hardwick, England, where Amanda and I spent five hours over dinner getting to know each other. And I’d love to be able to walk into the Fast Eddie’s Place on Anna Maria where I began my career in the summer of 1981 as a college kid busing tables.
We’re developing a guest experience we call the “Renaissance era.” Already you’ll notice the transformations. We’re leaning deep into European culinary tradition to inspire the next dining menu and refreshing the visuals and aesthetic while reimagining what impeccable hospitality means to today’s guests. Our goal is to walk the tightrope between the past and future, to honor the traditions of Sarasota’s families over the years and to celebrate the history of a place that once housed the real estate office of Sarasota’s most famous resident, John Ringling.
We’ll be hosting wine dinners featuring chefs and general managers from the past, including Harry Christensen, Michael Garey, Bob Fracalossy, Ray Arpke, J.P. Knaggs and Frank Eucalitto. They’ll help prepare the menu, tell stories between courses and relive their years at Café L’Europe.