In the 1870s, a nurseryman named Robert Hoyt raised two seedling kapok trees brought from India. He planted one across from his house, unknowingly determining the future location of the Kapok Tree Inn.
In the 1950s, a singer / bandleader / restauranteur from Maryland named Richard B. Baumgardner wintered in Clearwater with his family. He eventually bought the Hoyt orange grove and its exotic kapok tree — which had already been drawing curious visitors for years — and decided to build an ambitious, completely original restaurant.
With help from friend Jim Jones, Baumgardner designed and built the 200-seat Kapok Tree Inn, and opened in 1958. They offered country dinners in elegant, even lavish, settings — with hundreds of imported, or locally manufactured, columns and statues and paintings and chandeliers, tied delightfully in with the grounds' tropical foliage.
Over the years, word-of-mouth alone propelled this utterly unique restaurant and its grounds to the status of local and international sensation. This success led to massive expansion both inside and out, and to the building of a family of similar restaurants.
The original Clearwater Kapok Tree Inn continued to grow in success and size — becoming an exciting, exotic, international tourist destination. It was truly a sprawling complex, with souvenirs and gift shops bearing its name.
Throughout its life, The Kapok Tree Inn received accolades for its concept and ambience — and was named again and again as one of the nation's best restaurants for business dining.
Most important, though, are the many generations of visitors to dine, celebrate and create happy memories here — amidst the Old World scenery, with their friends and family.
After Baumgardner's death in 1976, his family operated the business — until selling to investors in 1983. Expansion to the restaurant and grounds seemed constant.
By 1988, the Chicago Sun-Times reported the Clearwater Kapok Tree Inn as the number 15 restaurant in the country, with sales of $10 million.
Business continued to increase through 1990, but the Kapok Tree Inn's doors were unexpectedly closed on May 14, 1991. Many would-be diners likely arrived during this period, anticipating the one-of-a-kind experience — only to be confused and disappointed.
In 1993, the Kapok property was purchased again, and turned into a Thoroughbred Music store. This was acquired in 1999 by Sam Ash Music, and their store is there to this day — along with Kapok Special Events & Gardens.
Whether you or your family are visitors to the famous Kapok Tree Inn, have always wanted to visit, or are simply looking for the most unique, fantastic and memorable location for your big event, you'll appreciate the individual vision, distinct personality, and years of history that went into the Kapok Tree and its grounds.
(with many thanks to Ben Mancine, researcher and administrator of this exhaustive Kapok history/fan site)