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  • Tara Crutchfield

Remembering Christy’s

Recreating an Evening of Bygone Delight …

The Garden Club of Winter Haven was considering fundraising options. The Friends of the Museum of Winter Haven History were looking for a partner. Ideas were tossed around and the discussion soon focused on recreating an evening to reminisce about a restaurant that had closed sixteen years ago. The restaurant was Christy’s Sundown and stories of its owner, Nick Christy, were plentiful. For many, the memories were vivid. The idea was embraced quickly. Remembering was the easy part… delivering the Christy’s Sundown experience would prove more daunting.

A Brief Overview

Nick Christy was a legendary Winter Haven restaurateur. He arrived in town in 1952, buying a shuttered hamburger and hot dog stand known as “The Sundown.” Christy immediately set about remodeling the restaurant and creating his vision of what would become one of this area’s finest dining establishments. His commitment to quality food and superb customer service would bring coveted recognition including Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon Award. His friendship with Cypress Gardens’ founder Dick Pope would bring Hollywood’s finest, from Carol Burnett to Dean Martin … Bette Davis to Roy Rogers. Spring Training baseball brought a cavalcade of sports stars, among those a personal friendship with many including Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski. Many signed photos were enshrined in the restaurant lobby. But regardless of your fame or fortune, dining at Christy’s Sundown included a warm, welcoming “Howyadoin” delivered tableside from Nick himself. Mr. Christy passed away in 2010.

The Museum of Winter Haven History has collected Christy’s memorabilia since its sale in 2008. Menus, the photographs from the entrance lobby, and one of the plexiglass Christy’s logo panels were in hand. A Facebook post asking people to share their memories brought a stream of fond comments and produced further donations of items people had collected including dishes and an actual five-foot by eight-foot Christy’s Sundown sign! The museum setting would be intimate and seating would be limited to 88 attendees.

The challenge at hand: Recreating the dining experience. The group relished the challenge — more about “relish” later.

The Dinner

Nick Christy was of Greek descent having shortened his name from Christopulos. The Sundown menu featured Greek influences including such entrees as Athenian Grouper. Fortunately, we had a place to start our planning. Neil Curran operates Chef Neil’s Bistro on Dundee Road. Mr. Curran was a Christy’s chef for 17 years and graciously shared menu and seasoning suggestions that he had learned while working at the Sundown. Chef Neil noted one of the first things he was told after beginning at the restaurant was, “when an order for filet came in, I was to prepare two onion rings as a garnish for the steak.” Bit by bit, piece by piece we were gathering the secrets to make “Remembering Christy’s” as accurate as possible. And as we spoke of recreating the menu, one question came up frequently, “Will you have the relish tray?” The relish tray was the centerpiece of every Christy’s table. It was a three-compartment stainless steel carousel that contained corn relish, sliced sweet pickles and cottage cheese with chives. While none were among the pieces rescued from the restaurant when it closed, duplicates were found, purchased and would become the centerpiece of the evening’s food presentation.

Both organizations began promoting sponsorship opportunities in early December. It was apparent immediately that sponsors would exceed budget projections. In all, 66 seats were reserved by sponsors, leaving 22 for general sales. Word of mouth proved invaluable as tickets sold quickly.

Terrie Lobb, owner of TLC Catering, rose to the challenge of recreating a menu consisting of said relish trays, split pea soup, filet (yes, with onion rings), or Athenian Grouper, baked potato, asparagus, salad and either coconut cream or key lime pie - all prepared as closely as possible to Christy’s exacting standards. A food tasting was scheduled for late February, and menu items and seasonings were modified where necessary.

By late March the event was nearly sold out. Final planning was complete.

April 13th arrived. It was 6:30 pm and Showtime! Guests entered the museum lobby flanked by a lighted Christy’s sign and entered to table centerpieces comprising hundreds of roses arranged by Garden Club members. Just as Sundown menus once noted, each table featured a card that stated the roses came from Mrs. Christy’s garden. The museum decor featured the recreation of Christy’s Celebrity Wall, a display case of menus, dishes, and AAA Awards from the restaurant. The stage featured rear-screen projection of memorable Christy’s moments. Lighted brass sconces that once graced the walls of the restaurant flanked the stage. Music for the evening was performed by Jeremy Rath at the keyboard of the museum’s recently refurbished Steinway grand piano.

At 7:15 guests were seated and it was announced that there was only one way to begin a meal at Christy’s. At that moment, servers paraded into the room distributing the signature relish carousels to each table. Guests were then treated to the Sundown’s signature serving sequence of salad, split pea soup, entree and then dessert. Dinner included special Greek wines selected by the sommelier from Obscure Wines, LLC in downtown Winter Haven.

Following dinner, guests were invited to share their memories of Nick Christy and his beloved Sundown restaurant. Those memories were many and varied from date nights to weddings and prom dates to dancing in the lounge. Many of Winter Haven’s biggest business deals were struck over a Christy’s meal. Perhaps former State Senator Rick Dantzler summed it up best when he noted that Christy’s provided an important venue for Winter Haven at a time critical to our growth and success. There was a warm sense of nostalgia as guests visited around, sharing memories and laughs and an occasional moment of reflection. There were familiar photos, faces and, for an evening, the memories of classic dining experiences.

There was only one important Christy’s tradition missing, that affable gentlemen, always in coat and tie, strolling table to table firmly asking, “Howyadoin?”

There was only one Nick Christy.

Fundraising for History

At evening’s end representatives for The Garden Club of Winter Haven and Museum of Winter Haven History shared their upcoming projects to be funded by the event’s proceeds.

The Garden Club of Winter Haven will celebrate its centennial in 2027. They are planning a new art installation at the Winter Haven Library that will pay tribute to the community’s roots in the Citrus industry and its Chain of Lakes. Winter Haven artist Bill Larence spoke of his design and presented a small model of the citrus sculpture surrounded by the canal-connected lakes.

The Friends of the Museum of Winter Haven History is a 501 (c)(3) organization that funds the displays and restoration of museum artifacts. Their most recent project refurbished an 1895 Steinway grand piano. Current projects center on cataloguing the museum’s collection of photos and objects from Winter Haven’s history.

Photography Provided


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