Gary’s Duck Inn, Orlando, Florida

I’m a sucker for a ‘Jumbo Shrimp Platter’ flying saucer hovering over a seafood restaurant…aren’t you? I don’t know why this motif didn’t catch on.

About Gary’s Duck Inn (found here, by the Rosen College of Hospitality Management):

Opening its doors in 1945 on South Orange Blossom Trail, Gary’s catered to Orlando’s growing population and tourists with no-frills seafood that featured quality, service, and affordable prices. The restaurant’s popularity drew celebrities like Dolly Parton and Bob Hope to dine on their Jumbo Shrimp. It is estimated that Gary’s served about 25,000 pounds of shrimp annually during the 1970s and 1980s, its heyday. The success of Gary’s interested Bill Darden of Darden Restaurants, Inc. to become a co-owner of the local landmark in 1963 and became the inspiration for a chain of seafood restaurants, known today as Red Lobster. Although Gary’s closed in 1994, its legacy continues to grow in the U.S. and abroad.

It’s ashame when these places close, but I’m sure it happens for all sorts of reasons, not just one.

From the Orlando Sentinel, 11 October 1994:

Gary’s Duck Inn, an Orlando landmark and the inspiration behind the Red Lobster seafood chain, closed last weekend. It was 49.

The popular seafood restaurant at 3974 S. Orange Blossom Trail had been up for sale in recent months. Its current owner, Bud Mills, was unable to spend the money needed to make the business a success, said Art Childress, a manager at the restaurant.

On Friday, with no buyer in sight, Mills told employees the restaurant would close that night for good.

Gary’s was on South Orange Blossom Trail, an area of highway that was listed in 2009 as one of the FBI’s Top 25 Most Dangerous Streets in the U.S. – and the Urban Dictionary’s view of the trail is not much sunnier.

According to Wikipedia:

Orange Blossom Trail (OBT) is a named portion of US 441 that runs from Mt. Dora, Florida, through Orlando, and to Kissimmee. Orange Blossom Trail is signed as both US 17 and 92 from the Polk / Osceola County line north to SR 50/Colonial Drive, with a short break in the downtown Kissimmee area. Central Boulevard is the dividing line between North O.B.T. and South O.B.T.. On June 25, 2009, OBT was listed in the top 25 most dangerous roads to live on in the nation, at #22.{} South O.B.T from Colonial Drive to Sand Lake Road is treated locally as an unofficial red-light district: with noticeable amounts of prostitution, an illegal drug trade, old hotels, strip clubs, several adult video and novelty stores…

You can find a detailed description of the Orange Blossom Trail here.

It would certainly be fun to make it to this exhibit – Orlando Landmarks: Photo Transfers by Barbara Ery at the Orange County Regional History Center (I need to find out if one of her photo transfers is of Gary’s Duck Inn – I hope so).

I read somewhere that Gary’s Duck Inn is now an empty lot, that the building has been torn down. However, even with the business closed, and the building gone, fortunately the recipes live on.

Gary’s Duck Inn Hush Puppy Recipe (from the Orlando Sentinel):

2 cups enriched white corn meal
1/3 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup of ground Spanish onion and juice
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg
2/3 cup milk (more or less if needed—according to onion juice)

Sift meal, flour, baking powder and salt together.
Add butter, onion and juice to dry ingredients.
Add beaten egg. Add enough milk to make a soft dough. Drop by spoonfuls in deep fat at 375 or 400 degrees about 4 or 5 minutes.