The reception honoring Kauffman is Friday from 6-8 p.m. at the Beaches Museum
Longtime Beaches residents who have visited The Rite Spot restaurant may recall the whimsical plates that adorned the restaurant’s walls.
Created by local artist Kaye Kauffman, the plaques depicted various iconic images and landmarks of the area, many of which are no longer (such as The Rite Spot, which closed in 2010). From Jacksonville Beach Boardwalk at the Restaurant Le Chateau silver drugstore and the Atlantic Beach Hotel, the story of the Beaches unfolded in dozens of charming scenes.
Now art collectors and those wishing to preserve a piece from the past can bid on one of Kauffman’s plates at an online auction, hosted by the Beach Museum.
Kauffman, who died last September, had requested that the plates that adorned the restaurant’s walls be displayed at the museum and auctioned off for charity. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the museum and Ministry of Beach Emergency Aid.
According to the auction website, Kauffman was born in Jacksonville, lived most of her life in Atlantic Beach, attended Atlantic Beach Elementary School, and graduated from Fletcher High School. A charismatic educator who taught at Terry Parker and Fletcher High Schools, she was also quick to recognize talent as a number of her students went on to successful careers in the arts.
Additionally, Kauffman was a founding partner of Atlantic Beach Potters, where many adults learned the craft of clay pottery from her. His work reflected what has been described as “a free and generous spirit”.
“She really was the coolest mom,” her son Mitch Kauffman said. “We were into surfing and skateboarding our whole life, and all the kids were hanging out there.”
Mitch and his brothers – Champ and Mike – grew up in the same Atlantic Beach home where their mother spent her childhood. The family has always had dogs, about 30 over the years; in fact, it was Spike, Mitch Kauffman’s dog, who launched Kaye’s platemaking career.
In a Facebook post earlier this week, he recounts how a local art museum put out a call for entries, asking local artists to submit two pieces for a juried exhibition.
“My mom made two plates with Spike’s picture on them and called them ‘Spike Plates,'” he said in the post. “They were the biggest hit on the show and they asked him to do a [one-woman] show with all Spike plates.
In the mid-1990s, when David Cole and his partners reopened The Rite Spot in Jacksonville Beach, he contracted Kaye Kauffman to design a series of plaques showing local landmarks.
One of Cole’s partners, David Wampler, remembers their popularity and the continued growth of the project.
“Customers were asking us all the time to buy them, and I always told them they should talk to Kaye,” Wampler said with a laugh. “They documented all the old places and showed the history of the beaches. When Doc Silver came to eat, we always put him under the plate with his store.
The Rite Spot’s location on Third Street was the latest of several incarnations of the restaurant, known for its home cooking, fresh vegetables, wide range of side dishes and homemade milkshakes. Served in an old-fashioned soda fountain glass, these milkshakes even have their own plate.
Somewhere there is also a plaque showing Wampler, Cole and their third partner, Jay Faulkner.
“We all grew up here and spent a lot of time together,” said Wampler, who now owns G&S Restaurant Equipment. “I think Jay and David were his students at one point.”
At the time, Wampler got his start in the restaurant business working at Pete’s Bar in Neptune Beach, itself a historic institution. This is where The Rite Spot has spent most of its life, opening next to Pete’s in 1954 by Junior and Gerry Beasley.
There he served generations of families, friends and visitors, including frequent Shorelines contributor Bill Longenecker.
In a 2012 story, Longenecker reported that Pete’s pool tables sat on the floor of the original Rite Spot. A longtime resident himself, he was a regular at the restaurant.
“At that time, I was enjoying a main course and two vegetables for $1.50,” he writes.
Although it’s gone, fans of the old restaurant — or even newcomers who love the area — can preserve a bit of Beaches history while supporting a worthy cause.
A reception celebrating the life and art of Kauffman will be held on Friday, January 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. The auction ends at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 4. The plates can be viewed in person at the museum until February 4.