Boca Raton: In talks for Boca location, Houston’s closes Pompano dock to boaters
By Steve Plunkett
South Florida boaters have lost a restaurant destination on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Houston’s in Pompano Beach no longer allows patrons to tie up their vessels at the restaurant’s 300-foot dock just north of the Atlantic Boulevard bridge.
“While we recognize boating is part of the culture and appeal of the Intracoastal Waterway, we do not feel dockage is an amenity that contributes to our goal of providing a first-rate dining experience for our guests,” the restaurant announced Aug. 15 on Facebook.
“I guess I won’t be going there for lunch anymore,” said Gene Folden, chairman of Boca Raton’s Marine Advisory Board.
Houston’s is part of the Hillstone Restaurant Group, which has been negotiating with Boca Raton since 2011 to build a waterfront restaurant on the city-owned Wildflower site just north of the Palmetto Park Road bridge.
Peter Ricci, director of the hospitality management program at Florida Atlantic University, was as surprised as Folden was by the policy change.
“That’s not any kind of trend I’ve heard of,” Ricci said. “That’s really sad.”
W. Glenn Viers, Hillstone’s vice president, said a number of factors contributed to the ban on boats.
“Regrettably, while the overwhelming majority of boaters are polite and respectful of others, a handful felt entitled to ignore our Pompano restaurant’s dress code by wearing wet bathing suits, no shoes, and other items into the building that are not in keeping with the premium dining experience Hillstone guests have come to expect,” he said in an email.“At other times, some boaters arrived intoxicated, were abusive to staff, deposited trash and garbage, blasted music and allowed boats to idle creating fumes, and attempted to dock overnight, among other things,” Viers continued. “At times, the number of boats ‘rafting’ and/or the large size of some craft magnified these problems and, importantly, obscured the water views from the dining room.”
Adding to Houston’s woes: liability claims, rising insurance costs and dock maintenance expenses that “burdened the restaurant’s performance and distracted our managers,” Viers said.
Folden, who had gone to the Pompano Beach restaurant by boat just the Sunday before the announcement, said the ban is at odds with Houston’s appeal.
“People go there because they want to see the Intracoastal, they want to see the boat traffic,” said Folden, who early on was a supporter of having a restaurant with docks on the Wildflower site.
Ricci, the hospitality management professor, said the Boatyard in Fort Lauderdale took the opposite tack from Houston’s last summer, when the waterfront restaurant closed for a three-month expansion project.
“One other thing they did was make sure they were extra-friendly to their boaters,” Ricci said.
Viers said the change in Pompano Beach does not alter the company’s position on the Wildflower site. In November, he told Boca Raton officials that Hillstone would not build a dock, but would let the city do so at the southern end of the parcel as long as it did “not affect the views of the Intracoastal.”
“Hillstone would hope to avoid a situation in which restaurant guests’ water views are negatively affected — which is something that happened at Pompano Beach,” he said.
Houston’s Facebook announcement generated more than 1,100 comments. Facebook users choosing emojis were split among “like” (240), “angry” (147) and “wow” (93).
“We are sorry this decision in Pompano Beach has angered so many, but hope people will at least understand and appreciate, if not agree, with the business and operational reasons which prompted this,” Viers said.
Boca Raton voters will decide in November whether the Wildflower site should be preserved for public uses rather than commercial, the result of a citizen petition drive that gathered more than 1,700 verified signatures.