The Lovelee Worthington… A Hidden Gem

- October 8, 2021 -

WORDS: Sheri Roca

Just west of the Ellenton outlet mall and interstate 75 lies a hidden gem on the banks of Lovelee Lake, called Worthington. Originally Lee’s Crab Trap II, Worthington has recently been transformed into a historical and charming wedding and event venue. 

You may remember Lee’s Crab Trap II, a restaurant known for its Old Florida décor and historical dishes and flavors. The restaurant was conceived and built from the ground up by Leeland Cline in 1985, with attention to every detail.  

The most important detail was the view of Lovelee Lake. Knowing that each guest would be hoping for a glimpse of the amazing view, he first created scaffolding so that he could walk the property and gauge the perspective of every patron before he even began to build. It is this attention to detail, the rustic but elegant décor, and of course, the view that has already made Worthington a sought-after Wedding & Event venue for locals and destination weddings alike. 

As you enter Worthington, the most notable element is its vaulted ceilings and natural wood décor, creating a feeling of romance and nostalgia. The entire 8,000 square foot establishment has a rustic, dreamy charm and at the center of the spacious ballroom is a grand, 6-foot crystal chandelier. Although the dripping crystals may be a sparkling focal point, the lighting above the 40-foot bar and in numerous other locations throughout the establishment threatens to steal the show.  

These fixtures are a bit more whimsical, repurposed from great pieces of branches or driftwood by Leeland Cline himself. They are just a few of the many imaginative and indelible pieces of the original restaurant that add to the charm of  Worthington. You may even catch a glimpse of gators on the lake as well as one in the venue! 

“We were honored to be able to pay tribute to him and keep many of them as part of our family’s tradition. Our goal will always be to take his vision above all expectations, especially for those who want to be an addition to our next chapter!” said Jarrett James, Grandson of Leeland Cline. 

The Event Director for Worthington, Lisa Van Beuren, is also the Lead Wedding & Celebration Planner. Lisa comes to Worthington with more than two decades of impressive and diverse hospitality experience. Lisa said: “At the end of the day, my goal is to help you create a memorable experience, in the most stress-free way imaginable, surrounded by the love of family and friends and the joy of knowing you are in good hands.” Worthington, Lisa, and their outstanding list of preferred vendors are passionate about making your most important day perfect. 

Suppose you prefer an outdoor venue with a unique old Florida vibe that isn’t just another beach wedding. In that case, there is plenty of room on the beautifully landscaped grounds, along the banks of Lovelee Lake, just outside of Worthington. There is also the large, covered deck overlooking the lake, complete with ceiling fans and ambient lighting for smaller wedding ceremonies or used as a gathering space for larger weddings & events and all receptions.  

Keeping in mind, it is still Florida and, unless you are new to the area, you know that when it rains, it really does pour. And so, on your most important day, it is good to have a “Plan B.” Worthington offers a perfect option. Lisa and her team can make the switch from an outdoor wedding at the lake to an indoor, fully air-conditioned backup plan, in the historical and unique indoor venue, with as little as 12-hours’ notice. 

Worthington and the two other local restaurants established by Mr. Cline, Hickory Hollow and Sea Hut, have remained in the family for more than 40 years. The restaurants were left to Leeland’s two daughters after his passing in 2008, and all continue to be owned and run by his daughter, Donna James, along with her son and daughter, Jarrett and Jennifer James. 

The family’s first restaurant, dating back to the 1970s, was the original Crab Trap. When Donna James inherited it, she renamed it The Sea Hut. The Sea Hut, popular for the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere and consciously sourced seafood, lies just minutes from the Skyway Bridge in Palmetto. As you would expect, the restaurant specializes in seafood, and some of the local favorites are the Sea Hut Crab Cakes and the Three Crab Soup. One of their signature items, Great Lakes Yellow Perch, definitely caught my eye. 

Hickory Hollow Bar-B-Que is also in the family, voted #1 BBQ in Palmetto and Ellenton, which is prided for its Southern Home Cooking and offers far more than just Barbecue. You will also find specialties such as Asiago Olive Poppers, Brunswick Stew, Gazpacho Soup, and Fried Catfish. You will find it just off Highway 301 in Ellenton. 

After the Crab Trap II’s closing in 2010, it was put up for sale to the public and was sought after and officially purchased by Donna James in 2012 in order to keep it in the family. After more than two years spent lovingly transforming this iconic landmark into Worthington, their vision was finally a reality. In the words of Jarrett James, their vision included “a hint of the old Florida feel with a splash of elegance scattered throughout the newly remodeled venue, focusing on a more chic than shabby outcome.” 

Even Lovelee Lake holds much significance for the James family. Because the lake was never named, the James family was able to claim naming rights to it. To conceive the perfect name, it was important somehow to convey the beauty and elegance of the setting while tying it to the family’s legacy. After much brainstorming, Lovelee Lake was born by paying homage to both Leeland Cline and his great grandmother Love Cline. 

The estate holds a special place in the hearts of the James family, and they hope that The Worthington will be as sentimental to you as it is to them. 

Donna James said: “We could not be prouder to embrace and share our family history.”  

This month, the James family would like to invite you to Worthington’s first annual Halloween Party, complete with a creepy and creative Tim Burton theme, entitled, “Til Death Do Us Party.” What better venue to host the wedding of Victor and Emily than the historical wedding venue of Worthington? 

  • For more information, check out the newly launched website – 

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