Stillwater mourns pirate restaurateur Shawn Smalley


STILLWATER, Minn. – People in Stillwater are mourning the loss of their most animated citizen.

Shawn Smalley was known as the town pirate. He ran a popular downtown restaurant that was featured in the Food Network several times, and named Best in Minnesota by WCCO viewers.

Chef Smalley had a seizure and passed away at just 45.  Now the town is mourning its spirited hero.

His brother Shawn Whitaker explains why his brother always dressed as a pirate.

“He’s just always been like that,” Whitaker said. “That outlaw sort of persona, you know. And a lot of people think he’s like larger than life or something, but really what it is he’s just down to earth.”

Outside the Harbor Bar, his second home, is a flag in his honor. Inside the Harbor Bar, a group of loved ones gathered to share some words with WCCO in his honor.

“Met Smalley down here about eight years ago and he actually got me a job here,” Libby Harper said.

Shawn Smalley


“He’s just one of my friends and family and I loved him a lot,” Angie Stadtler said.

Cory Buettner owns Leo’s in downtown Stillwater.

“Our restaurants would fight each other for best burger in the valley,” Buettner said.    

Even his rivals are his fans. Smalley started a Caribbean barbeque restaurant in downtown Stillwater that caught the attention of Guy Fieri.

“The first time I ever met him it was like this celebrity is like talking to me and I am ordering a beer, like oh my gosh, what do I do?” Harper said. “But he was just like, ‘I’m just a regular guy that lives up the road with a dog.'”

He was so loved that when his restaurant – Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar – closed because of high costs, his friends got together and made a permanent show of affection. They got real tattoos with his face.

“He’s just one of those people that’s always there for everybody, so you’d never think that he wouldn’t be there,” Whitaker said.

As they grieve, they also celebrate their spicy friend who gave their town so much flavor.

“When you say a true friend, he was a true friend, he really cared about the people around him, he loved us all very much,” Donnamae Glass said.

Smalley’s friends will have a private memorial, and then plan to start Stillwater’s annual Shawn Smalley Pirate’s Day.

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