WORDS: Kara Chalmers
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
Anna Maria Oyster Bar Landside has been one of Bradenton’s most beloved restaurants for more than two decades — quite a feat. Situated on busy Tamiami Trail, just north of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, other restaurants nearby regularly come and go. But Landside thrives.
“They always say, ‘location, location, location,'” said John Horne, who, with his wife Amanda, owns Landside, plus three other Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants across Manatee County. “But it’s also the people. You can overcome location with great food and people.”
The Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants are casual, family-friendly, and known for fresh seafood and a fun atmosphere. John is a constant presence in his restaurants and comes to work each day with a smile (his secret is listening to comedy in the car, he said). He expects the same from his staff of more than 380 people.
So, he takes care of them, providing livable wages and flexible schedules, and in turn, he enjoys minimal staff turnover. His employees enjoy their work, he said, which helps customers have fun, and come back.
“People go to a restaurant to have a good time,” John said, adding that they want to know they can consistently expect great food and service. We expect our guests to be loyal to us, so we give them a consistent product.”
The Oyster Bar Beginnings
John Horne’s first restaurant job was as a busboy at Fast Eddie’s, an Anna Maria restaurant, more than four decades ago. He moved up quickly to server, then the manager. He opened his first oyster bar on the Anna Maria City Pier in 1995 (it closed in 1999).
Anna Maria Oyster Bar Landside was Horne’s second location, and it opened in 1997. Locations on Cortez Road West in Bradenton and Ellenton soon followed, in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Last to open, with a menu that’s a bit smaller than its three sisters, is the Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the historic Bridge Street Pier on Anna Maria Island.
Landside — the one near the airport — features a spacious indoor dining area, with a large, full-service bar and a private room that can seat about 35 guests. The building also contains The Halfway Lounge — named for being the halfway point between the city centers of Bradenton and Sarasota. The lounge is described as a casual sports bar, and it offers the restaurant’s full menu.
It opens onto a broad outdoor deck and The Backyard, which is a wide grassy field for playing corn hole. Globe lights are strung up over the whole outdoor area, adding to its charm. There are plenty of water bowls on the patio for canine patrons, and live music is provided every night in season and on weekends the rest of the year.
The decor inside, as well as the menu, is coastal-inspired. There’s fresh seafood, lobster, crab, steak, pasta, chicken, soups and salads, fish specials and, of course, oysters.
The restaurants serve oysters seven different ways: raw, fried, steamed, Garlic Parmesan, Chipotle (Grandma Georgie’s), Rockefeller (with bacon), and Tequila Lime, featuring a house-made tequila citrus blend, garlic butter, and parmesan cheese, baked and finished with scallions.
You can order oysters by the dozen or half-dozen. The Oyster Sampler contains three each of Rockefeller, Chipotle, Garlic Parmesan, and fried. There’s even a Granddaddy Jake’s Oyster Stew.
“Our baked oysters have converted oyster skeptics,” John said, adding that his restaurants regularly serve more than 20,500 oysters in a week.
Also, the Hornes participate in an oyster shell recycling program. They place used shells in bins that Waste Pro picks up weekly and brings to Perico Preserve. There, the shells are placed in a reef to help make new oysters, which naturally filter the water.
Other notable menu items include the daily catch of local trout, pompano, and snapper, plus the non-local wolf fish. Stone crab’s available in season. Customer favorites include the Calamari, dusted with a spicy breading, lightly fried, and served with homemade chunky marinara sauce, as well as the eight salmon specials, including Salmon in Puff Pastry and Cucumber Dill Salmon.
Promotions at the restaurants include early-bird specials and “Penny-an-inch,” which allows kids under age 10 to eat for just a penny per inch of their height, Sundays through Thursdays at all locations. Also, there’s All You Can Eat Fish ‘n Chips on Mondays, and Happy Hour daily from 11 am to 5 pm and 8 pm until close. There are also watch parties for all Clemson football games (Clemson is John Horne’s alma mater).
The restaurant has won numerous awards over its two-plus decades. Readers of the Bradenton Herald and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune have voted it the best All-Around Restaurant, Best Seafood Restaurant, Best Early Bird Special, and Best Margarita. The restaurant has also won Small Business of the Year awards from the Manatee, Sarasota and Longboat Key Chambers of Commerce.
WORDS: Kara Chalmers
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
If someone told you that in two hours a day, one day a week, for four weeks in the summer, you could drastically improve the life of a child in Manatee County, would you do it? Then John and Amanda Horne have a volunteer opportunity for you.
The Hornes, who own the four Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants in Manatee County, founded Dive into Reading four years ago. The program pairs reading mentors (ages 16 and older) with rising first, second, and third-grade students who don’t read at their grade levels. This situation is dire, according to Amanda, who said that a student who’s not reading proficiently by the third grade is four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19.
Dive into Reading, which is free for students, is held in Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants and other locations in Manatee and Sarasota Counties. It’s centered on one-on-one reading time with a mentor. The child gets to keep the (new) book he or she reads, plus an additional book, provided by the Manatee Community Foundation and the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County (ELC).
Also, each reading session includes a hot breakfast, provided by Anna Maria Oyster Bar. In the fourth and last session, the kids get to order off a menu from servers.
According to John, a lot of their suppliers have been happy to donate items such as orange juice, coffee, and eggs. “No one says no,” said John. “Everybody wants to help kids.”
As part of the program, the children receive etiquette lessons on how to hold a knife and fork, how to politely serve themselves from a buffet, how to order from a menu, and how to greet adults.
At the end of the program, each child receives a backpack filled with school supplies, thanks to a partnership with the Palmetto Elks Club, and they also receive more books from the ELC. Often, both the mentor and the child cry, Amanda said.
“It’s invaluable one-on-one time with an adult,” Amanda said. “They eat and read together. It’s social and emotional.”
John noted that mentors get as much out of the program as the students. He said: “It’s a chance for them to get a new grandkid,” he said, referring to some of the older mentors. However, volunteers can be as young as 16.
Statistics a Catalyst for Action
In Manatee County, some 49 percent of students aren’t reading at grade level by the end of the third grade, according to Amanda. In addition, on average, low-income children lose two to three months of reading skills over the summer, a phenomenon known as the “summer slide.” In particular, third-grade reading proficiency is a crucial indicator of future success, Amanda said.
These scary statistics are what spurred the Hornes to create Dive Into Reading. It aims to help Manatee County students keep reading over the summer, thus preventing or alleviating the summer slide.
“We have to give these kids a level playing field,” said Amanda. “They deserve that.” She noted that in some cases in 2019, Dive into Reading kids not only avoided the summer slide, but they also gained 1.25 months of reading proficiency.
The time commitment for mentors is from 8:30 am to 10:30 am one day a week for four weeks in June. Since its inception in June 2017 in Manatee County, Dive into Reading has expanded to Sarasota County, and the plan is to expand it to DeSoto County this coming summer. So, mentors have multiple locations from which to choose.
In 2019, the program was offered at the Anna Maria Oyster Bars in Ellenton and Landside, Gecko’s Grill & Pub SR-70, the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, and Gecko’s Fruitville.
In June 2019, a total of 11 schools were helped by the program, and seven teacher coordinators and 354 mentors volunteered. The students read a total of 13,730 books, and 365 students “graduated” from the program.
The Hornes, known for their philanthropy, hands-on volunteering, and small business leadership, have won several awards over the years. In 2019, they won the Bradenton Kiwanis Foundation’s Bert South Philanthropic Award for their Dive into Reading program. The annual award came with a $10,000 prize, which the Horne’s promptly split between Dive Into Reading and the PACE Center for Girls.
The Hornes also won the 2019 Leadership Florida Impact Award for Dive Into Reading. The award spotlights projects that are transforming the future of not just their region, but potentially the entire state of Florida.
“It was the first time I’ve ever seen him speechless,” smiled Amanda, describing what her usually gregarious husband was like at the award’s presentation. Amanda said she truly believes the program can expand throughout all of Florida.
TAKE A PEEK A BOOK NOOKS…
Partnering with the ELC of Manatee County, all four Anna Maria Oyster Bars house “Book Nooks.” The ELC donates the books, the servers publicize the program to customers, and kids dining at the restaurants visit the Book Nook and choose a book to read and take home. The restaurants go through nearly 1,000 books a month, Amanda said, and are happy to take donations of new books.