BRANDON, Florida. – Two former employees now own the historic restaurant where they worked as a teenager. The way they keep the legacy alive at Fat Willie’s Fish Camp is what suits Tampa Bay.
For Christian Pate and Roy Mireles, it looks like déjà vu is back in the kitchen of Fat Willie’s Fish Camp restaurant in Valrico.
“21 years ago we were doing this,” said Pate. “I was five years old, I was in this restaurant when they first opened it.”
“My first job was a dishwasher when I was 15,” said Mireles. “I actually started here when I was 16. I’m 36 now.”
They both left the restaurant 20 years ago and are now back. For them, it’s not just about business, it’s about family.
“Bill was a big part of my life when I was young. He helped me complete my college education and he was my mentor growing up, ”said Mireles.
Pate said, “It’s a family heirloom for me. My uncle started this business. My cousin ran this business for several years.”
His uncle, Bill Robinson brought his dream to life in 1975 without any restaurant experience.
“He modeled it after the fishing camps in North Carolina where he had lived for a time,” said his wife Mary Ellen Robinson.
The restaurant became so popular that there were queues around the corner and on the street.
“It has become a household name. People have told me they saw Fat Wilie’s t-shirts in Hawaii,” said Mary Ellen.
In 2014, Bill retired and sold the place. Due to COVID, the restaurant closed.
“COVID has done work on a lot of little mom and pop restaurants,” Pate explained.
He and Mireles bought the restaurant this year.
“I couldn’t let Bill’s legacy go to waste like this. I felt it was time for someone else to step up.
It was a call they felt compelled to answer.
“This is where I feel like I need to be. This is where I feel like I’m meant to be,” Mireles said.
Back where they started to help keep the legacy of Bill Robinson and Fat Willie’s Seafood Camp alive. Bill passed away in 2020.