Chet Sanders, owner of Chet's Seafood.
Owner of 'Pensacola staple' dies at 73
Chet Sanders' landmark eatery will continue to serve up seafood
They were serving the specialty, fried mullet, at Chet's Seafood at lunch on Friday, and, as always, they were cooking everything from scratch.
It's the way Chet Sanders would have wanted it.
A simple, white sign on the front door of the small, family restaurant on Navy Boulevard informed diners that the restaurant would close at 1 p.m. "due to a death in the family."
What many customers didn't realize when they saw the sign was that it was Mr. Sanders who died.
Mr. Sanders, who opened the restaurant in 1981 and ran it until two years ago, died Thursday at the age of 73 after several years of heart trouble. His private funeral was Friday afternoon.
"We never dreamed it was him," said regular customer Elizabeth McWilson, who was lunching with friend Cindy Weimer. Weimer called Chet's on Navy Boulevard "a Pensacola staple." A second restaurant opened in Pace in 1991.
Pensacola News Journal
Published - May, 20, 2006
McWilson said it was hard to find a restaurant owner who cared about his customers the way Mr. Sanders did, noting that he regularly came to her table to ask her how she was doing.
"The food is delicious," she said. "It's always fresh." Weimer agreed.
"Chet always came to the table to speak to us. He was always smiling, always joking. He asked us to go fishing with him."
John Peterson, who works at BellSouth, said he had known Mr. Sanders for 35 years. Mr. Sanders worked for Peterson's father at Southern Bell, as the phone company was then called.
Mr. Sanders was "much loved and respected," Peterson said. "(The restaurant) is him."
Fred Levin, a Pensacola attorney, said he dines regularly at Chet's, and Mr. Sanders will be missed.
"I was crazy about Chet," he said. "I never heard anybody say anything bad about him. I'm going to miss him. He was a true American."
Randy Sanders, Chet's son, said his father's death is a loss for his family, the restaurant and the Pensacola community.
"He always spent all his time doing something for somebody else," he said. "He didn't want anything from anybody. It's hard to tell it all."
Sanders, who took over management of the restaurant from his dad two years ago, said his father planned his funeral.
"He didn't want anything drawn out," he said.
Born on Sept. 20, 1932, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Mr. Sanders moved to the Pensacola area in the 1950s. He worked for Southern Bell in Pensacola for 29 years before entering the restaurant business.
The younger Sanders said his father opened a seafood restaurant after retiring from the phone company because it was the natural thing to do.
"All we ever did was fish," he said.
Sanders will continue to operate the Navy Boulevard Chet's.
The Chet's Seafood in Pace will reopen in coming weeks. His sister, Sandy, and her husband will run that location.