The House Papa Built

Through determination, skill and a dream,
Hugh “Papa Hughie” Ganter succeeded in running what has become a landmark restaurant in Lighthouse Point – Papa Hughie’s Seafood World. The next generation has followed suit with the opening by his son of
Papa’s Raw Bar. With anniversaries on the horizon, the two entrepreneurs discuss what it’s like to realize dreams.
By: Lorie Greenspan
How would you like to live in a house “built on stone crabs and conch”?
Troy Ganter did, and so did his half-brother, Christopher. But the much stranger part of the story relates to the fact that they actually knew what a conch was, unlike others in South Florida 40 years ago, for whom “seafood” and “entrée” were two unrelated terms.
That is until Papa Hughie and his wife, Joy, fully established their seafood restaurant business on North Federal Highway in Lighthouse Point. It is a story that involves educating the public on seafood fare – for, unbelievably, 40 years ago, no one ate seafood unless they were Catholic and it was Friday – as well as the vision of entrepreneurship of first and second generations. In August the family celebrates two anniversaries, with the Zagat-rated Papa Hughie’s Seafood World marking 40 years in business under the same ownership, a first in the area, along with Papa Hughie’s 75th birthday.
“Forty years ago, seafood was something people only ate if they were Catholic on Fridays,” Papa Hughie recalls (the “Papa” moniker, relates Troy, dates to when his father and mother married and the adoption of Joy’s son from a previous marriage, which caused people to joke to Ganter, up to that point a confirmed bachelor, “You’re a papa now.”) Four decades ago, Papa Hughie recalls, people living along the coast of South Florida did not eat seafood – “People didn’t like or know enough about seafood,” like conch soup for instance. And so, says Papa Hughie, who was the chef of the restaurant in its early days, “It was very tough for us” to get the public to embrace seafood as a meal preference. “People went to New Orleans, the Carolinas or San Francisco then for seafood.”
The reluctance of the population to eat fish was also reflected somewhat in Papa Hughie’s early attitude, of not wanting to dive entirely into restaurant ownership.  The son of a diplomat born in Peru who was stationed in Germany during the Berlin Crisis that culminated in 1961 with the Berlin Wall’s construction (a hot sauce named Tank Commander pays homage to Papa Hughie’s military service) Papa Hughie was a pilot and flew wholesale products, including seafood, between the Bahama islands and the mainland, supplying the original owner of the restaurant, then called Fishtails & Seafood World. Owing Ganter money, the individual offered the restaurant in exchange for payment. “I didn’t want to do this, but we decided to stick it out,” Papa Hughie recalls. “We ran it as a family with four to five tables.”
And then Papa Hughie’s plane crashed, which forced a turning point, and prompted the family to make Seafood World their full-time bread and butter. The rest became the history of an enterprise firmly established now in the roots of Lighthouse Point, known for an atmosphere that instills friendship and good times, and for seafood fare that is second to none. In its second generation, the Ganters have wrapped their business enterprise around a corner of the shopping center on North Federal Highway, where a poodle groomer, hair salon and Thai restaurant once stood, with the opening last year of Papa’s Raw Bar by Troy, a place for locals to hang out and tourists to enjoy. Troy’s half-brother, Christopher, works to supply the restaurants with seafood. With the fourth generation coming into its own – Ganter and wife, Cassie, who helps manage both restaurants, have two sons, Troy, 7 and Gavin, 6 – and more generations in the wings waiting to follow – Christopher’s son, Chris – the place to go for seafood 40 years ago continues its success in Lighthouse Point.
Still maintaining its rustic charm with paneled walls and marine décor that remind one of being below deck on an old boat, Seafood World invokes the feeling of family – Papa Hughie, by all accounts, would not have it any other way. Although larger than it was when it started, the restaurant remains small in its way of making everyone welcome. The walls have been the scene for many memorable gatherings and celebrity visits, such as restaurateur and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who told Papa Hughie it was the only restaurant he ever loved. Priscilla Presley, former wife of rock legend Elvis Presley has also dined there, and it also was the scene of a birthday party for the aunt of well-known businessman Steve Wynn, Papa Hughie recalls.
By far one of the biggest events at Seafood World was a visit by Muhammad Ali, who spent most of the day there, with a line of fans extending “out the door,” remembers Papa Hughie. That occurred about 25 years ago, when a series of events converged: Ali was in the area, supporting the Just Say No To Drugs program with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, and at the same time, was presented the championship belt he received for knocking out Sonny Liston. When the boxer asked if anyone had any “monkey hip rice” Papa Hughie said it was a specialty at Seafood World – the dish is formally known as Bahamian peas and rice. “By the time he left, the parking lot was full,” Papa Hughie says.
All of this celebrity attention has given the establishment a sort of royal halo in Lighthouse Point. So when Troy started Papa’s Raw Bar, he recalls, “It took three months to distinguish ourselves from Seafood World” – not a bad time frame, considering the legacy of the restaurant next door. A place where you can “Eat, Drink and Be Local,” Papa’s Raw Bar boasts “Floribbean” cuisine, defined by one newspaper as a “fusion of island-inspired fare mixed with locally grown tropical fruits and fresh-caught fish.” The décor is a canvas of local tidbits, some nautical, some familiar –  T-shirts in support of local businesses are pinned to the ceiling –  and a well-worn floor welcomes a continuous parade of locals and tourists. It’s a place where you can go for the best food, listen to great area bands, and feel right at home.
A staff of 64 at both establishments ensures every customer is treated like family. “Everyone feels comfy here,” says Papa Hughie.
But as Papa Hughie puts it, Troy is the family’s visionary “and we are just hamsters in the wheel.”
Troy, 36, says he started busing tables when he was 13 – went to college and “I swore I wouldn’t be in the restaurant business.” He started a wholesale operation, Best Stone Crabs, supplying fish, shellfish and signature salads to restaurants locally and throughout the Caribbean, and also recalls a time when seafood was a foreign term in the area. Noting the years of hard work it took for his father to build up Seafood World’s reputation, he adds, “Dad said the house was built on stone crabs and conch.”
With menu items such as Papa’s Gone Hibachi, Stonies by Billy Paradise and Fast Eddie’s Fried Rice, Papa’s Raw Bar boasts sushi and hibachi “better than Benihana,” says Papa Hughie. It sells more than 110 beers and 65 wines, features the Bimini Room that is quickly becoming the go-to place for party rentals, and maintains the family style theater that has made its predecessor famous. Other sites on the horizon for Troy include a Latin fusion location in Pompano Beach and an “Eat, Drink & Be Local” site.
“I’m a huge foodie and I cook,” says Troy, “but I’d rather be in the front of the house. I love entertaining and our catering is top notch,” he adds, noting the restaurant has been asked to cater weddings throughout South Florida.
“My father’s my mentor. I put him on a pedestal – it’s uncommon for a relationship like this to work.” He adds, “I’ve been nicknamed Papasan.”
With their legacy firmly rooted, the family plans to celebrate “Papapalooza” on Aug. 1, which will feature local band Uproot Hootenanny plus two local breweries that will make special edition beer for the event: Salt Water Brewery from Delray Beach and Funky Buddah Brewery from Ft Lauderdale. The event will honor the convergence of the two notable anniversaries, and help everyone to look forward to a future in which the entrepreneurial passion is not likely to abate.
“I’m extremely passionate,’ Troy says of the business. “I’m a natural entertainer and I love making people happy. We have the best clientele and people come from all over – even the West Coast when they’re in the area.”
This attitude has earned kudos from writers such as writer Mark Young, who visited Seafood World several years ago, and in a magazine opinion piece, wrote: “The extraordinary aspect of the experience was being in the presence of a business owner (Papa Hughie) who had been working there tirelessly for three decades, with the enthusiasm of his first day of operation.”
It is a business acumen that will no doubt continue, as Papa Hughie reflects on life and the restaurant business. “This is the American dream,” he says. “It’s been a hard but good trip – it’s my legacy.”


 Troy and Cassie Ganter pose with their children Gavin and TJ and with Papa Hughie and his wife Joy.

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This post was prepared by staff at Point! Publishing. For inquiries call 954-603-4553.

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