Memory Lane

Kelly’s Fish House: Naples’ oldest restaurant

Few Florida restaurants survive more than a decade, and many close long before that. Kelly’s Fish House, founded in 1953, is the oldest restaurant in Naples and a genuine slice of Old Florida.

“My stepfather was a commercial fisherman,” says Kelly Ellis, the current owner. “He bought the seafood business from Bob and Pat Combs in 1957 and acquired the restaurant in 1971.” It has remained basically unchanged ever since, relying on an unbeatable formula: fresh, high-quality ingredients and warm service, combined with a view of the Gordon River. Netting drapes the walls, and the glass-topped tables are filled with sand and shells.

Menu highlights include pristine Gulf shrimp and snapper, Apalachicola oysters, and an assortment of the best catch. “We buy from independent fishermen who work for us on consignment and bring in local fish such as Florida red grouper and kingfish,” Ellis explains. A recent visit featured fluffy pompano amandine, lightly fried jumbo sea scallops, and grilled mahi.

Guests who want to take away a souvenir can visit the Shell Shack next door, which Ellis opened 25 years ago. It combines a huge selection of local and imported shells with natural sea sponges, sand dollars, starfish, nautical gifts, and jewelry. Those who don’t want to buy in bulk can select a free shell from the assortment at the entrance.

Ellis is straightforward about his recipe for success. “I have good people,” he says. “Several employees have been here more than 40 years. Good ingredients are important, but the people make it work.”

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