Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Iconic St. Simons Steakhouse for Sale; Bennie's Red Barn Owner Says Tax Issues, Wife's Illness Brought Decision

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Iconic St. Simons Steakhouse for Sale; Bennie's Red Barn Owner Says Tax Issues, Wife's Illness Brought Decision

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Morrison

ST. SIMONS ISLAND | An iconic restaurant has been put up for sale as the owner wages a war against high taxes and his wife carries on a personal battle with cancer.

Don B. Gentile said he put the mid-island Bennie's Red Barn up for sale recently as part of a 14.6-acre parcel that has been in his family for years. His father, Bennie Gentile, opened the popular, barnlike steakhouse in the 1950s when the neighborhood around it - and indeed the entire island - was only sparsely developed.

"Taxes are eating me up, and with the economy and all, it's getting to be too much to handle," Gentile said. "Plus, I've got an illness in the family and if we can downsize, it'll be better for all concerned."

A "For Sale" sign from Don Wright and Associates has been stuck in the ground near the front of the restaurant on Frederica Road at South Harrington. An online advertisement places the asking price for the restaurant and the acreage at $7,038,824.

Gentile said he has included the restaurant in the package to make the tract more appealing to prospective buyers.

"It's more saleable as a package," he said. "Plus, if I sell just the restaurant, I'm not going to have enough of an income stream to pay the taxes on the land."

Gentile has been trying for several years to close a deal that would bring a third major grocery store to the island and allow him to keep the restaurant. But an outcry from neighbors and other islanders opposed to a change in the site's zoning designation brought the project to a halt.

Gentile had wanted to lease part of the land to accommodate a 55,000-square-foot major grocery store, but first he needed an amendment to the site's current planned development zoning designation.

Publix was mentioned as a potential tenant, though no deal was ever struck.

Gentile said if the project had gone forward, stipulations on the planting of trees and placement and size of buffers would have made it the nicest shopping center on the island. …

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