March 20 will be a day not soon forgotten by Steve Manwell.
It was the first day he and his wife opened Melanie’s Seafood Company, located at 120 Park Avenue in Lake Wales, becoming the inaugural local eatery to take advantage of the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency’s Restaurant Incentive Program.
It also happened to be the same day Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the state’s new stay-at-home guidelines. Suddenly, months of planning and renovation work, it was all in jeopardy.
“That was very, very difficult to learn that day,” Manwell recalled.
But the Manwells have been popular local restaurateurs for many years, so the hurdles put up by the new guidelines haven’t proven to be insurmountable.
“The Lake Wales community has known my family for almost 20 years. Now that I have a new venture, I am very grateful for the people of Lake Wales,” Manwell said. “Considering the day we opened, it has been beyond my expectations.”
Other establishments followed suit, and have been awarded grants from the Lake Wales CRA that targets the historic downtown and northwest section. One of the restaurants is planning to open on Lincoln Avenue, with a tap room planned for Park Avenue.
“We had heard about the grant maybe two years ago. We looked at a couple of other buildings before we found the building downtown,” Manwell recalled. “I called to see if the grant was still available, and we were like ‘heck ya — let’s just put a brand new place in.’”
The space he picked for Melanie’s Seafood Company needed plenty of tender loving care before its debut.
“This particular building, we had to rewire everything inside and basically most of the plumbing, the front facade, floors, a new ceiling — it needed it all,” he recalled. “The grant was necessary, and it was so easy. It is extremely helpful and important for people to know there is somebody to help you downtown. ... The whole city staff has been wonderful.”
Karen Thompson, who serves as the CRA’s assistant director and as Executive Director of Lake Wales Main Street, said the process went exactly as planned. In fact, the incentive program has been so popular, more money was added to the fund earlier this year.
“Melanie’s Seafood represents exactly what this food incentive program is designed for. They’ve chosen a building in our historic downtown, re-developed it with improvements that raise the property value, fall within the incentive guidelines and raised the tax base all the while providing phenomenal food for our community,” Thompson noted.
Money must be used for specific purposes, mostly involving infrastructure and operational upgrades.
“I am personally proud of the service we provided every step of the way, walking them through the entire process and making it as streamlined as possible,” Thompson added. “The Manwells understood they were our first recipients, which could have been a rocky road, but instead turned out to be smooth sailing. I enjoyed working with them and look forward to many many lunches, weekly.”
Open Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., the menu at Melanie’s features everything from homemade Manhattan clam chowder to prime rib, duck and signature hand-pattied hamburgers – thus the moniker, “A little bit of everything.” But seafood is the calling card.
From shrimp or oyster “po-boy” sandwiches, to salmon or flounder, diners will enjoy an experience defined by the owner’s uncomplicated but ambitious approach.
“We are new, we are clean and we are fresh. I’d say 97 percent of our menu is homemade,” Manwell added. “That was my vision, that was my goal, and that’s what we’ve accomplished,”
For takeout orders, reach Melanie’s at 863-949-6879.