Rusty Pelican parent company to open new restaurant in Fort Lauderdale (Photos)

Rusty Pelican parent company to open new restaurant in Fort Lauderdale (Photos)

A restaurant group known for a locally famous themed restaurant in Miami will open a new waterfront establishment in Fort Lauderdale.

Specialty Restaurants Corporation, the parent company of the historic Rusty Pelican restaurant in Key Biscayne, is building an indoor-outdoor restaurant called Sweetwaters in Downtown Fort Lauderdale’s Huizenga Park.

The Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority announced the new restaurant as “a major addition” to the soon-to-be redeveloped plaza. Huizenga Park is projected to break ground in early 2024. 


Sweetwaters will be a multilevel restaurant of 12,688 square feet. The restaurant is set to open along Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale and will offer visitors views of the park, downtown skyline and the New River. Additionally, the restaurant’s outdoor dining area will encompass 5,846 square feet.

“We are beyond proud to be chosen by DDA to be part of this transformative park project,” said John Tallichet, President and CEO of Specialty Restaurants. “Downtown Fort Lauderdale's growth and enhanced prominence as a culinary destination made it a natural choice for us to establish our presence here. We are excited to be a part of this vibrant community and contribute to its culinary evolution, nestled in this beautiful waterfront location, creating a destination on its own within a world-class park.”

Specialty Restaurants hired New York-based interior architecture firm ICRAVE for its conceptual design. Tampa-based JVB Architect, LLC is the restaurant’s architect of record.

Sweetwaters will be designed and funded separately from the park project. Early design plans state the restaurant will be built to complement the greenery of the three-acre Huizenga Park with vertical gardens and an elevated glass facade.

The Fort Lauderdale Development Authority wrote the agency chose Specialty Restaurants to be its restaurant partner because the company has a proven track record of opening successful restaurants on publicly owned lands. 

Specialty’s original Rusty Pelican restaurant in Key Biscayne has been operating on land it leased from the city of Miami for over 50 years. The channel-facing restaurant is located on a small peninsula off the Rickenbacker Causeway. 

“We are extremely pleased to join forces with hospitality leader [Specialty Restaurants Corporation], known for its expertise in collaborating with public agencies and transforming open spaces and parks into vibrant destinations, to further enrich Fort Lauderdale's dynamic restaurant scene,” said Jenni Morejon, President and CEO of the Fort Lauderdale DDA.

“The Reimagined Huizenga Park will feature a captivating design that will introduce a series of new experiences within the park,” she added. “The addition of Sweetwaters as part of the park's new design program will create an unmatched setting for an elegant culinary experience along the edge of the New River.”

The Fort Lauderdale DDA announced the ground lease with Specialty Restaurants will help to capitalize a portion of the construction costs for the Huizenga Park redesign. Post-construction the lease will contribute to the agency’s nonprofit Huizenga Park Foundation, which will oversee operations, maintenance and programs.


Huizenga Park is situated between Las Olas Boulevard and Andrews Avenue. It’s located near many of the city's major cultural and educational institutions and is being designed to be a hub for dining, leisure and recreation.

Redevelopment estimates suggest the Huizenga Park project will cost $15 million. The Fort Lauderdale DDA is working with the city, state, private donors and Specialty Restaurants to renovate the park. 

Specialty Restaurants is a family-owned restaurant group that operates 17 award-winning restaurants in Florida and California, including the Rusty Pelican and Whiskey Red’s. The company also has event spaces in New York and Ohio.

Dallas-born restaurateur David Tallichet started Specialty Restaurants in 1958 in collaboration with SeaWorld founder George Millay. The company specializes in themed restaurants.

Miami’s Rusty Pelican location opened in 1972 with a tiki theme. Six years later, Specialty Restaurants opened a second Florida-based Rusty Pelican in Tampa.

South Florida Business Journal

Rusty Pelican parent company to open new restaurant in Fort Lauderdale (Photos)
Rusty Pelican parent company to open new restaurant in Fort Lauderdale (Photos)

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