Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,)

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2006/09/04 10:26:17 (permalink)

Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,)

Another Roadfood Spot Gone!


PLANT CITY -- Branch Ranch's menu was the embodiment of comfort food before anyone knew what comfort food was.

Through 50 years and three generations of family ownership, it didn't change much.

Ham, fried chicken, catfish and pork roast were staple favorites on the menu.

And don't forget the fresh vegetables: green beans, squash, candied sweet potatoes.

But it has come to an end.

Michael Trauner, grandson of founder Mary Branch, announced Thursday he is closing the Plant City restaurant.

"A lot of folks probably think I am crazy to close it," said Trauner, 47. "It has been a long decision coming for 24 years. Running a restaurant requires 110 percent commitment all the time. I'm not having a midlife crisis. I'm just thinking, 'What do I want to do for the next 20 years?'"

The chairs are stacked and the kitchen is bare. A sea of business cards from visitors still hang on the Pecky Cypress walls and ceiling -- all ready to tackle a fall and winter season that will never happen.

At least, not for now.

If one of his children decides to run the business after college, he will help them. But if not, the Branch Ranch traditions will carry on through its Web site operations and retail sales of cucumber pickles, biscuit mix, marmalade and preserves.

"I went there for years and years," said Leland Hawes, a retired Tampa columnist. "It was always very good. The fresh vegetables were always good."

The building, and original home, will remain in the family. Nothing is being sold.

Trauner plans to rent the farmhouse/restaurant for large parties and special events.

And the special homemade cakes, made famous by the Branch Ranch, can still be purchased by calling the restaurant.

"People loved those cakes," Trauner said. "We don't want people to go into withdrawal. If they call us, we will take care of them.

"We're not selling the business," he said. "We are just closing the restaurant. We will keep parts of it going."

The Branch Ranch staff of nearly 20 employees has already found other jobs or they are pursuing other interests, Trauner reported.

"It is a mix of emotions," he said. "I will miss seeing the customers and our crew each day."

While the area around Interstate 4 has grown in recent years, especially during the last half-century, it really did not have an impact on the Branch Ranch or its customers.

"We have always had a diverse customer base," Trauner said. "During the winter we would get our tourists and winter residents. But then we would also get a lot of families with children and retirees. It was a whole cross-section of different customers. It has been that way since the early days."

Trauner, like his five children -- Amber, 25; David, 22; Walter, 17; Ellie, 15; and Alexandra, 13 -- grew up helping out and working at the restaurant. He began his career with the Branch Ranch shortly after graduating college in the early 1980s and met his wife, Meredith, 44, while working in the kitchen.

But the history of the restaurant and the property, dates a little further -- 1880 to be exact.

That is when the 120-acre property was homesteaded by Trauner's great-great-grandfather, Calfrey Leroy Branch.

The property was divided and split into three 40-acre sections for Branch's three sons.

In those days, Thonotosassa Road was only dirt and good dining was hard to find.

But Mary Branch, Trauner's grandmother, urged on by her friends, began cooking in the evenings, after working as a schoolteacher by day.

"It was just out in the country then," said Trauner. "From those humble beginnings, people started calling her up."

That was in 1956.

Year by year, the restaurant grew and additions were made to the original home to accommodate hungry guests.

"When they built I-4, it brought more customers in," he said. "The business just blossomed."

And so did its popularity.

The Branch Ranch Dining Room has catered to the likes of Elvis, a majority of the Detroit Tigers during five decades, Ken Curtis, who played Festus on "Gunsmoke" and the country group Alabama.

"We have had a variety of singers in here from the Strawberry Festival too," Trauner said.

Liz Brock, a Plant City resident, knows the importance of the restaurant's history and its famous food.

"It was always fantastic," she said. "It was kind of off the beaten path."

But that was part of its charm.

Brock's former mother-in-law, Marjorie Sparkman, helped Mary Branch cook in the early days of the restaurant.

"The people that owned it were always gracious and accommodating," she said. "The food was always excellent."

But it's the customers and their support that Trauner will miss the most, he said: "It really and truly has been a good business. No single factor, other than a desire for the freedom to try something new has motivated this decision."

Jeremy Maready is a reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland.

14 Replies Related Threads

    Michael Stern
    Fire Safety Admin
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/04 14:57:12 (permalink)
    Now that's a darn shame. The Branch Ranch has been a pillar of Roadfood since the beginning. We're sure going to miss it.
    John A
    Filet Mignon
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/04 17:55:45 (permalink)
    Been there a number of times, always great food, another Icon going by the wayside. Hopefully one of the children will keep it going.

    I’m confused about his statement, "A lot of folks probably think I am crazy to close it," said Trauner, 47. "It has been a long decision coming for 24 years”. Has he been thinking about closing it for 24 years, if so, talk about indecisive.

    Filet Mignon
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/04 19:22:13 (permalink)
    Very sad................our friends would go to a buffet Roadfood type place near here but we always came here instead. It was so old fashioned and the vegetables were out of this is just a darn shame.
    • Total Posts : 207
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/04 19:54:02 (permalink)
    You would think the business would be worth a considerable sum of money and that Trauner would keep those parts that he still wanted (marmalades, pickles, cakes, et al), but sell the restaurant business and take a nice profit. It's curious that one would just close down a successful, going operation like that. It was always very busy when I was there. Sad to see it go.
    • Total Posts : 7501
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/04 20:05:33 (permalink)
    I have gone to REDS spring training a number of times over the last 10 years, and I always looked forward to getting a great meal there.

    I really don't like sweet potatoes, but I actually really liked theirs.

    I agree on the 24 years to make a decision.... here I thought 6 months was a long time to make a major change.

    • Total Posts : 239
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/04 21:05:39 (permalink)
    I was just by there a short time ago, so when I read it
    in the paper, I couldn't believe it.
    Being able to still buy their pickles at Publix, is not very comforting.
    • Total Posts : 375
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/04 21:31:14 (permalink)
    Sad, very sad. I brought my late wife and her mother and father there in early 04. We all loved it. Part of the memories of my last road trip with my dear Trish.
    Double Cheeseburger
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/05 12:21:17 (permalink)
    When Mrs QFan and I lived in Tampa, we used to go there periodically, including one of our wedding anniversaries. Family-owned places like this just don't grow on trees and can never really be replaced once they're closed. I think it's been in every one of Jane and Michael's Roadfood books since the beginning, but now just a memory. That makes me sad!

    Bonita Springs, FL
    Rob Smith Jr
    Junior Burger
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/26 12:36:16 (permalink)
    One of our favorite restaurants and my mother's very favorite. We'd travel from Orlando to eat there. What great food and yummy vegetables. Another icon of native Florida eateries gone!

    A mighty thanks for all that was done to keep her open and prayers that the children will bring her back!!
    Fire Safety Admin
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/27 12:50:25 (permalink)
    How disappointing to hear this news! While growing up, Branch Ranch was our usual stop from the auto train in Sanford to our home in Fort Myers. I always looked forward to a visit. I had only eaten there a few times as an adult, but the quality seemed just as good. It will be missed!
    Junior Burger
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/09/28 17:28:51 (permalink)
    You can always head up to Dillard, Goergia to eat at the Dillard House..Lot's of fresh veggies..corn bread..fried chicken, ribs, Country Ham (the REALLLLY salty type) Salisbury Steak..Cabbage Casserole, Potaotes Obrien..and on and on etc..Great place in a beautiful setting near the Smoky Mountains..

    Branch Ranch was one of my favorites when I lived in St. Pete...Is the Goody Goody still in Tampa? How about the Collonade? They had some fine fried chicken
    Junior Burger
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/10/26 18:11:00 (permalink)
    no more goody goody in tampa, the property was sold in 2005.the building has been bulldozed. you can see goody goody one last time with john travolta in the movie, "the punisher" also the collanade on bayshore blvd is still open for now they decided not to close it. ps Elvis also ate the branch ranch
    Fire Safety Admin
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/10/27 13:37:06 (permalink)
    Elvis ate at The Branch Ranch? No wonder I liked the place so much!
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Branch Ranch-Plant City-CLOSED! (Fla,) 2006/11/01 14:51:18 (permalink)
    Hate to see the old places go but having eaten there several times during the years I always thought it was pretty average and kind of overpriced
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