David Hitterman, owner of the Frog Pond, takes a break during the 30th anniversary weekend of the Frog Pond in North Redington Beach.
NORTH REDINGTON BEACH – If you have ever dropped into the Frog Pond restaurant in North Redington Beach and tried to chat with owner David Hitterman you know how tough it can be.
Hitterman seldom keeps still. If he isn’t answering the phone, he’s wiping a table. If he isn’t picking up dishes, he’s greeting an old friend at the door.
Perhaps that is why the Frog Pond, at 16909 Gulf Blvd., just celebrated its 30th anniversary over the Labor Day weekend. David is just the man to ask about the history of this iconic establishment.
“The Frog Pond was actually started by friends Dennis Merkle and Bill McGabren in 1982,” he said. “They had friends in Rochester, N.Y., who owned a restaurant called Charlie’s Frog Pond so they fashioned the local Frog Pond, right where it is today, after that.”
The Frog Pond was so successful that Dennis and Bill opened four others, in Dunedin, Bardmoor, Northwood in the Countryside area, and St. Pete Beach. Over time it became too much so they sold the newer locations but kept the original in North Redington Beach.
Fate intervened causing the friends to sell their original establishment as well.
“Bill had colon cancer and it became too much so they sold the final piece,” he said. “They sold the business but kept the name.”
Now enter Hitterman.
“I had come down from Indiana right after I graduated from high school,” he said. “I got a job in the restaurant at the old Tides Bath Club. Bill and Dennis came to work there after they sold the Frog Pond and that is where I met them.”
The new owners of the Frog Pond couldn’t make a go of it so at the urging of the landlords Dennis and Bill, who was in remission by then, decided to reopen the Frog Pond and they took David with them.
“That was on Labor Day weekend in 1989,” said David. “I became a partner after that and we’ve been going ever since.”
For some time David has been operating the Frog Pond by himself. Dennis and Bill retired and moved to Georgia. Earlier this year Bill McGabren passed away. David fondly remembers his early days with Dennis and Bill.
“It was very good, I did a lot of learning,” he said. “I had good teachers so after they left I took care of the day to day headaches, it all went smoothly.”
Still, there has to be some reason why the Frog Pond has lasted as long as it has. Hitterman is sure he knows why.
“You have to remain consistent,” he said. “If you don’t change, people will come back time and time again. Seventy percent of our business is repeat business.”
When asked if the Frog Pond has a signature dish he doesn’t have to think about it.
“Our eggs Benedict, the hollandaise sauce is made from scratch with the same recipe for the past 30 years.”
Peg and George Pesut of Largo are two of the customers who keep coming back. In fact, Peg used to wait tables at the Frog Pond.
“I can remember working here when David was waiting tables too,” she said. “I worked here for about 10 years on and off. Now we are just customers. We’ve been coming here for about 25 years and we’ll continue to come here.”
Peg says they have become great friends of Hitterman and he prides himself on how many customers have become good close friends.
“We have been on vacation with many of the people who come here regularly,” he said. “This is a family oriented place. I have watched several generations of the same family come in here. Sadly we’ve seen too many of our customers pass away, our friends are getting older.”
Yet, David continues to expand the business.
“In 2006, we opened up in St. Pete Beach,” he said. “It is right next door to the old location.” David owns the St. Pete Beach location by himself but the menu and the operation mirrors the location in North Redington.
As for the future, David, 51, says he isn’t close to retiring yet. And he isn’t sure he ever will.
“I suspect when the time comes I’ll cut my hours back from 70 hours a week to 40 hours, that would be good,” he said. “Even when I’m on vacation I’m only an email away, I’m never really away.”
The Frog Pond is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.