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A diner born in New Jersey grows old at beach and will retire today


© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001

ST. PETE BEACH -- Ziggy and Helen Radvil first set eyes on the Pelican Diner while honeymooning in 1966. They stopped in for a milkshake.

Three years later, they bought the landmark in St. Pete Beach.

Today, after 32 years behind the counter at the Pelican, an old-fashioned, stainless-steel diner at the corner of 75th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard, the Radvils will serve their last short stacks and sides of bacon.

The Pelican closes today at noon.

The Radvils sold it Tuesday for $300,000. The new owner, George Calomiris, said he hopes to find a restaurateur willing to keep it open, but plans remain uncertain.

In the year since they put the Pelican on the market, the Radvils have heard tales of first dates, late nights and fun vacation days spent at their diner.

One woman told Mrs. Radvil that while her parents were going through a divorce in St. Pete Beach, the Pelican became the regular place where she and her father would go for time together.

"It was a comfort zone, a special place," Mrs. Radvil said.

One former mayor of St. Pete Beach even appealed to the City Commission to not allow the 50-year-old relic to be razed for new development.

The diner, like other roadside luncheonettes popular from the 1930s to the 1950s, was manufactured in a New Jersey factory. The Pelican, known for its neon sign depicting a little boy tossing fish to a pelican until a hurricane took the sign in the '60s, was placed in St. Pete Beach in 1951.

Mrs. Radvil, 57, said she plans to do a bit of relaxing after serving breakfast on Sunday. Eventually she will find a part-time job -- something not in food service, she says -- and increase the time she spends volunteering in the gift shop at Bayfront Medical Center.

Her husband, 67, might seek work as a handyman, she said.

"It'll be bittersweet, with mixed emotions," she said of today, her last day behind the Pelican counter.

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