Michael “Frenchy” Preston


click to enlarge Michael “Frenchy” Preston - Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
Michael “Frenchy” Preston

No nickname is more synonymous with Clearwater Beach dining than Frenchy. You can’t set foot on the island without seeing at least one Frenchy’s business. Heck, even the town’s Jolley Trolley is emblazoned with Frenchy’s ads. Michael “Frenchy” Preston has been so successful at cornering the local beach bar market that his empire now includes five restaurants, two seafood companies, one gift shop and one renovated motel — the 15-unit retro-style Frenchy’s Oasis Motel on East Shore Drive. A native of French-speaking Quebec, Preston was nicknamed Frenchy as a child by his classmates in Ann Arbor, Mich. When he opened his first beach cafe 33 years ago on Baymont Street, the name seemed obvious.
Over the last three decades Preston, who lives in North Clearwater Beach, has become a fixture in Tampa Bay, his establishments beloved by both locals and tourists for their food, ambience and laid-back Florida attitude. For 30 years, the restaurateur has kicked off the start of stone crab season with his popular Stone Crab Weekend, a raucous October block party devoted to claw eating, music and dancing. His restaurants have appeared in countless publications and TV shows, including the Travel Channel, Food Network Magazine and Coastal Living , thanks in part to the brand’s world-famous grouper sandwich.
“We used to be this little place on a side street,” Preston says of his original café. “Now people tell me the first thing they do when they get off a plane, or the last thing they do before they get on a plane, is head to Frenchy’s for a grouper sandwich. That’s a huge compliment.”
Favorite place to hang with locals: Frenchy's Original Café . “I swear some people come just for the jukebox. I’ve got all the great rhythm and blues albums on that thing. A lot of the collection has been there since the restaurant opened. The regulars love to sit there, drink their beer, listen to the jukebox and let the day go by.”

Favorite Main Street: Downtown Dunedin. “It’s a fun laid-back place to visit. The stores, the bars, the restaurants, the people; it’s all very creative.”

Favorite beach strip: Clearwater Beach. “It’s really self-contained. You can go from one end of the beach to the other without having to get in your car. You can experience the real busy parts or head north and feel totally relaxed and left alone. And, you can barefoot it everywhere you go.”

Favorite live music venue: Capitol Theatre. “It’s a great venue to have in downtown Clearwater. I think it’s the nicest of the smaller, more intimate theaters. You can really connect with the entertainers.”

Favorite arts destination: The Dalì Museum. “The Dalì is great. The collection is the best in the world. You can’t help but get a kick out of the mind of Salvador Dalì.”

Favorite waterfront establishment: Frenchy's Rockaway Grill. “It’s the quintessential beach bar. It has good entertainment for free, good food at a reasonable price, and good people-watching. If I’m watching a sunset and I want to get that beachy feeling, I drink a rum runner at Rockaway.”

Favorite place to escape the crowd: North Clearwater Beach. “Things really slow down out there, so you’re able to take it all in by yourself without feeling like you’re in a commercial setting. If that’s not enough of an escape, you can walk down to Caladesi Island. It feels really, really remote out there.”

Favorite last call: The Shipwreck on Clearwater Beach. “It’s always been known as the last stop at the end of the night. By the time you’re ready to leave the Shipwreck, you better have a ride lined up, otherwise you’re in trouble.”

Favorite local rock star: Robin Zander from Cheap Trick. “He did a couple songs at one of my Stone Crab Block Parties. He’s a great guy to have around.”

Favorite blue-collar breakfast: JB’s Island Café. “It’s your traditional greasy spoon with sausage and eggs over easy. They do the basic things really well.”

Favorite frou-frou breakfast: Clear Sky Beachside Café. “They do mimosas and Bloody Marys. The breakfast specials are a little more upscale and creative than what you’ll get at a diner.”

Favorite romantic rendezvous: Caretta on the Gulf at the Sandpearl Resort. “Dinner there, followed by drinks by the fire pit on the beach, is a pretty impressive date night.”

Favorite way to burn calories: Biking the Pinellas Trail. “I’ll ride all the way up to Tarpon [Springs] and back. I get in a good workout and then grab some Greek food at Mr. Souvlaki.”

Favorite hideaway: Anna Maria Island. “I’m still close to home, but not so close that I run into everybody. It’s a great little getaway. I’ll stay in Cortez and bike up and down Anna Maria Island, Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key. It feels like a true escape. Even the water looks different there.”

Favorite bar band: Sweet Spot. “They put on a great live show and really pump up a crowd.”

Favorite tourist trap: Pier 60. “It really lets you know you’re in a beach community.”

Favorite place to go for an adventure: The Hub Bar in downtown Tampa. “From there, anything is possible. That place serves judges, local partiers and everyone in between.”

Favorite item on his menu: Cajun grouper sandwich. “The Cajun spices make the grouper pop … and on a grilled onion roll, it’s hard to beat.”

Favorite stretch of road: The Clearwater Memorial Causeway. “That entrance onto the beach is pretty spectacular. It really makes a statement, especially if you’re seeing it for the first time. You see the blue gulf, the pink Hyatt and you really know you’re heading somewhere nice.”

Favorite way to cover some ground: The Clearwater Jolley Trolly. “It’s one way to grab a good overview of the beach. For a couple bucks you can take it all the way to Tarpon Springs.”

Favorite spot to watch a sunset: The north end of Clearwater Beach. “The sunset is a universal favorite moment. Taking a walk at sunset on the north end of the beach is one of the things in life that never gets old. We take it for granted, but somehow when I’m walking that part of the beach I never take it for granted.”

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