Barbara and John Messmore, owners of the Sweet Sage Café in North Redington Beach, pose in front of the restaurant’s history wall. Messmore holds a glove given to him by former St. Louis Cardinals star Stan Musial.
NORTH REDINGTON BEACH – The Sweet Sage Café in North Redington Beach is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and a visitor to this iconic establishment can’t help but call it unique. The café is as much about local history as it is about food, and owner John Messmore likes it that way.
Messmore and his wife Barbara bought the restaurant, located at 16725 Gulf Blvd., eight years ago from Barbara Wilson who operated it for 12 years. Messmore says the establishment was Wilson’s baby and they have kept it that way.
“She was very concerned who she handed it off to,” he said. “As a result, we keep in contact with her all the time. She now lives on the family farm near Tallahassee. She’s doing fine, she’s doing great.”
While keeping the spirit of the place as Wilson wanted, Messmore and his wife have made alterations to the café, most notably outside in the back of the building.
“We have enhanced the garden out back,” he said. “Right now it is like sitting in Key West. Barbara is originally from Key West and she certainly had an influence on the décor.”
By his own account, Messmore, 68, has been in the restaurant business for 63 years.
“I grew up in the restaurant business,” he said. “My father had the second Howard Johnson’s franchise ever on the corner of Pasadena Boulevard and Central Avenue. I helped wash dishes when I was 5 years old. Dad came to Florida in 1949 and brought the family down in 1950.”
There is little doubt that the history of North Redington Beach is what captures Messmore’s imagination most of all and he shares that enthusiasm with his customers at the Sweet Sage.
One wall in the main dining room is covered with photographs and magazine covers from the 1950s and ’60s. Most of them taken by noted American photographer Ozzie Sweet.
Sweet shot 1,800 magazine covers in that era and many of them were taken on or around the beach behind the former Tides Beach Club on Gulf Boulevard.
“Many people don’t realize that most of the pictures on magazine covers back then were taken right here in North Redington Beach,” said Messmore.
Messmore met Sweet during that time when, as a teenager, he was working at the Tides. In fact he is in many of the photographs and, without much prodding, will proudly point out the shots in which he was a model for Sweet.
He also remembers meeting some famous people during that time.
“One day I was working and the boss told me to go out to the sundeck to take an order from some guests,” he said. “I went out there and it was Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. I’ll never forget, she ordered an avocado and an iced tea with two lemons.”
What did Joe have? His memory isn’t quite as sharp on that one.
“Listen, I was a teenage boy, I wasn’t paying much attention to Joe DiMaggio with Marilyn Monroe sitting next to him” he said.
The history on display at Sweet Sage has become a drawing card for many local residents and visitors alike. Susan Perodeau, 63, who grew up on the beach, brought her cousin Vivian Lorch to the restaurant for breakfast and they were raving over the history wall.
“This is a special place for those of us who grew up here,” said Perodeau. “Just to see those pictures it brings me back. We used to ride our bikes right here and then run across Gulf Boulevard to go swimming. We used to see how far into the summer we could go running across that hot asphalt in our bare feet before it got too hot. I’m privileged to be able to show my cousin what life was like back then.”
Lorch, visiting from Indiana for the first time, was delighted to share her cousin’s past.
“When we were growing up Susan used to come visit me in Indiana, but I had no impression of what Florida was like,” she said. “It is interesting to me to see these images of what life was like. I’m jealous of this cousin of mine and where she grew up.”
It is easy to sit around Sweet Sage and reminisce and forget you are in a restaurant. Perodeau was just as enthusiastic about the food as she was about the history.
“It was tasty, delicious,” she said. “I love the outdoors, it is exceptional. This place is a gem, a jewel.”
Messmore is proud of his food. Particularly the eggs.
“We do eggs Benedict 17 different ways,” he said. “But if we have a signature dish, it is something we inherited from the previous owner, the Waffledaffle. It is a waffle with whipped cream, kiwis, strawberries and raspberry drizzle.”
Messmore is also proud of the fact that his restaurant was rated No. 1 in North Redington Beach by TripAdvisor.com.
He still loves history and displays a baseball glove given to him by Stan Musial when he was a youngster. And he recalls when Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford lived down the road.
These days he counts former Bucs quarterback Vinny Testeverde as a regular customer.
“He and his wife come in here all the time,” Messmore said. “They are the greatest family, his two daughters and son.”
Messmore said they are still working on plans for a special 20th anniversary celebration. The actual date is March 14 but he said they will be celebrating all week.
He said his regular customers will know in plenty of time to join in the fun.