NEW PORT RICHEY — Ten years ago, when John and Nancy Caposey decided to open a family restaurant, they faced a predictable hurdle.
"We were penniless," said Nancy, 45. "We went to six different banks and they all turned us down."
But the owners of the diner they were eyeing supported the couple's goal. So they tried another way. The Small Business Administration agreed to assist the Caposeys in acquiring a loan from a private investor. Plus they "sold the house, scrimped and saved, borrowed a little from my sister," said John, 52.
This month, the Caposeys celebrate 10 years as owners of Caposey's Whole Works Restaurant in New Port Richey. In honor of the anniversary, the diner donated 10 percent of Wednesday's sales, plus donations — for a total of $531 — to the local Center for Independence nonprofit.
"I wanted to give back to my community, because these are the people who support me," Nancy said.
The business opened first in 1977 as a doughnut shop called "Hole" Works. It was renamed Whole Works when it became a diner, and changed to Caposey's when John and Nancy bought it in 2004.
Nancy has worked as a server, hostess and manager in other restaurants since she was 16. John's dad owned diners in Chicago since John was 11.
"I was washing dishes on weekends, and just kind of got stuck in the business," he said. "I've been cooking my whole life."
The decision to open their own place came after Nancy lost her job at a restaurant in Clearwater in 2002. John also worked there, as kitchen manager.
"We didn't want to be doing it for somebody else until we retire or die," he said. But with independence came trials.
Six months after the Caposeys took over the restaurant, a series of hurricanes caused $30,000 in damage. The restaurant flooded and needed a new roof. Part of the ceiling had to be replaced.
Over the decade, property and flood insurance costs went up. So did minimum wage.
"When the economy took a plummet, we prayed to God every day," Nancy said.
The work never stopped. No raises, no vacations.
"We're owner-operators. He was cooking seven days a week. I was waiting tables seven days a week," Nancy said.
"But I don't regret doing it," said John, who still cooks. Nancy, who works as a hostess, doesn't either.
"It's like Cheers, minus the alcohol," Nancy said.
If you're a regular, Nancy knows your name. The staff is small, but good, and includes the Caposeys' son, Trevor, 21, who waits tables. Nancy said their 14-year-old son, Matthew, will work there, too.
"The best part of working here is the people — customers and colleagues," said Tyler Thorne, 18, who has worked as a server for two years.
What customers get at Caposey's, they can't get anywhere else, Nancy said.
"Nothing's processed, nothing's microwaved," Thorne said. "Everything's homemade and everything's under $10."
Nancy calls it a "dying breed of restaurant."
For that, patrons are grateful.
Jim Coakley, 76, has been a regular since before the Caposeys bought the diner. He eats there four or five times a week. He has watched the Caposeys' kids grow. When you find a diner like this, you covet it, he said.
When Nancy calls it a family restaurant, she's "not talking about John, Nancy and the kids," Coakley said. "She's talking about all of us."
Arleen Spenceley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6235.