When a restaurant closes, people tend to find the next closest restaurant. Not Peach’s customers, they’re willing to travel.
When the location at Creekwood Crossing on State Road 70 remained closed after the COVID-19 pandemic, River Club residents Pete and Judy Wayer drove up to the State Road 64 location. They were not alone.
Between the two neighboring locations on S.R. 64 and University Parkway, customers and staff alike drove past other restaurants to the next closest Peach’s.
Before the pandemic, the Peach’s chain, owned by Alison Thomas, included 10 restaurants between Venice and Ellington. During the pandemic, the strategy was to keep the busier locations up and running and redistribute the staff between the remaining restaurants.
The Cortez Road, 26th Street and Manatee Avenue locations were all closed beyond mandatory shutdowns. Only the Manatee Avenue location will reopen. Regional Manager Patrick Thomas said it’ll be open sometime over the next few months.
There was one attempt to reopen the Creekwood Crossing location that lasted about a month, but the pandemic was still keeping most people at home. The majority of sales were coming from online orders. There wasn’t enough business at the time to keep it going, so Creekwood remained closed for nearly two years to the day. Shut down on April 15, 2021, the restaurant reopened on April 14.
“The first day was actually a pretty surprising start,” Thomas said. “It was definitely a lot busier than I thought it was going to be. That weekend was pretty crazy because it was a Friday that we opened.”
Regulars who’d been traveling to nearby Peach’s were given notice of the reopening by staff members and returned as soon as possible.
The Wayers dine at Peach’s a few times per week. While the food is tasty and affordable, it’s the service that garners such a loyal clientele.
“I am one of the loyal Peach’s patrons who is very happy the location at 70 & Creekwood has reopened after a two-year hiatus,” East County's Regina Dubois wrote in an email. “When it closed in April 2021, we followed our beloved wait staff to the location on 64.”
Candy Belt is part of that wait staff. She’s been a server at Peach’s for more than 18 years.
“I never meant to stay,” laughed Belt. “I had a job to help my son through college, but I just truly enjoy the company. I enjoy the people. I enjoy the staff. It’s run family-style. Everybody knows everybody. It’s very personal.”
Belt is willing to travel too. The S.R. 64 location is closer to her home on Upper Manatee River Road but said it’s more about the relationships. She’s been serving the Creekwood customers for 15 out of her 18 years with the company.
But it wasn’t easy during the pandemic. With staff changes and having to work between three different locations, she considered calling it quits. Out of the 20 employees at the Creekwood location prior to the shutdown, Belt is only one of two to last through the pandemic and return. Her regulars, who have also become friends, kept her going.
“Candy, Beth and Andrea have a huge following,” Thomas said. "(The guests) appreciate the genuine conversation, which is what they provide.”
Management struggled through the pandemic too. Thomas said it was difficult to run so many locations with little to no staff. He was the general manager at the Ellington and Manatee Avenue locations before taking on the role of regional manager.
“We just kind of took the beating and decided to close these two stores with the hope that we’d be able to focus on reopening them again,” Thomas said. “Just a few months back, they put me in this role, so that way I could work on getting these two locations reopened.”
Manatee Avenue is still in progress, but Creekwood is back in full swing. The address is 7315 52nd Place E., Bradenton. It is open 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.