By Larry Schwingel
To understand the essence of Tropical Acres Steakhouse is to understand the value of family. After all, it hasn’t earned the nickname of oldest steakhouse in Broward County on its sirloins alone.
The exterior is fairly nondescript, with a scattering of palm trees dotting the landscape. Inside, a new world awaits. Its 1950s décor reminds many of a slower, more enjoyable time. In the dining room, rows of brightly colored booths are separated by etched-glass partitions and historical photos of the area, such as East Las Olas Boulevard in the 1940s; Fort Lauderdale Beach in the 1960s; the original Broward County Courthouse; Hollywood Boulevard, circa 1930; and the construction of Bahia Mar in 1949. It’s Old Florida at its best.
With the retro ambience comes a level of comfort and relaxation akin to sitting around the family table. It’s fitting that four generations of the same family have maintained that tradition. “I’ve been in the business for 44 years, and I have people with me who have been here for 20 and 30 years,” says Jack Studiale, the current co-owner and manager. “That kind of recognition means a lot to customers.”
Gene Harvey, a cousin of Studiale’s mother, established Tropical Acres in 1949. He also created a fundamental philosophy that has guided each generation for 68 years: Give customers the most for their money. Back then, the restaurant’s dining area sat 75; today it seats 250. Filet mignon was $1.85; today it is $27.95.
Tropical Acres became a true family affair in 1964, when Studiale’s parents, Sam and Celia, packed up their car and made the road trip to Florida with eight children. Since then, sons, daughters and extended family members have all worked at the restaurant in some capacity.
As Studiale decreases his workload, the baton is being passed to another generation. His son, Joe, and his nephew, Mike Greenlaw—the son of Studiale’s sister and co-owner, Carolyn Greenlaw—have assumed additional managerial responsibilities. Despite the longevity, the family’s determination has been tested over the years through the challenges of uncertain economic times, large food chains entering a competitive market and two restaurant fires.
“We remained strong,” Studiale says. “We have stood the test of time.”
When a fire shut down the restaurant for six months in 2011, the staff grew even tighter. “They were so affected by the tragedy that they all wanted to help,” Studiale says. “We had half of the 65 employees working during the down time, and fortunately we were able to pay them; I feel they would have worked without pay.”
Tropical Acres has become a landmark—one that is all in the family.
Originally appeared in the Summer 2017 Issue.