Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Coney Island owner sells landmark Brooksville restaurant

BROOKSVILLE — Almost as soon as the dozen employees had gathered in the artifact-packed dining room at Coney Island Drive Inn on Friday morning, owner Blair Hensley broke the news:

"Sunday is my last day," Hensley said. "I'm selling Coney Island."

"Wow! Seriously?" said Lisa Mullins, his most veteran worker. Other employees gasped and, before long, some had pulled out tissues to wipe away tears.

As word spread to the rest of Brooksville, so did the shock.

"Did you just say he's selling?" asked Mike Steele, 39, a regular customer and old friend of Hensley's. "Oh, man!"

When Hensley bought Coney Island eight years ago, Steele said, it was "a little run-down and probably had a questionable destiny."

Before long, its parking lot on E Jefferson Street was regularly packed both during lunch and dinner hours and when Hensley opened it for charity fundraisers or special events. The restaurant's name appeared on the jerseys of youth and adult sports teams that Hensley sponsored.

Meanwhile, the jerseys of past Hernando High School athletes started to appear on the walls of the Coney Island dining room, along with a massive collection of classic signs for national brands, such as Orange Crush, and local ones, including Carlton's Market and Frazier's Farm.

The combination of the themes — the history of Brooksville and mid 20th century roadside commerce — came naturally to Coney Island, Hensley said.

Opened in 1960, the restaurant was designed to capture tourist traffic near U.S. 41. It's also the oldest continually operating eatery in the city, Hensley said.

And probably one of the most successful.

Hensley paid $340,000 for the restaurant, which is not much more than the building and property was worth. Though he didn't reveal the sale price, he said he sold as many hot dogs in March as he would have in six months when he first owned it.

Many customers are out-of-towners, Hensley said, drawn by a marketing campaign that includes billboards on Interstate 75. But it attracts so many locals, Steele said, that Brooksville residents of any age are likely to see somebody they know.

"It's like a multiple-year class reunion every time you go in," he said.

"Very few people go there just for the hot dogs. Sometimes it's the friendly service. Sometimes it's the nostalgia on the walls. Sometimes it just feels like the right thing to do."

It still will, said John Lee, who along with his wife, Sally, is the new owner. He has 43 years of experience in the restaurant business. He recently sold the Sioux City Steakhouse in New Port Richey, and his company operates dining rooms in the Timber Pines and Wellington of Seven Hills communities of Spring Hill.

The Lees said they intend to be as hands-on as Hensley, who was known for working long hours loading down footlongs with chili or kraut.

That was a big reason he decided to sell, said Hensley, who will remain in Brooksville and stay active in his other businesses. The long hours were wearing him down.

"I'm fried."

Comments
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a hostess and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute, little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and the...
Published: 12/15/17
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Published: 12/15/17
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million tax asse...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

In 2010, Florida was in the throes of an unprecedented housing crisis. One in every eight homes was in some stage of foreclosure. Today, the foreclosure rate is one in every 83. Because of that enormous drop, Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund will s...
Published: 12/15/17
Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

By ELAINE KURTENBACHTOKYO — Global inequality has stabilized at high levels in recent years, a report said Friday, despite gains among the poor in China and much milder disparities in incomes and wealth in Western Europe. The World Inequality Report ...
Published: 12/15/17
How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

Associated Press NEW YORK — After years of tremors, the earthquake that had long been predicted finally shook Hollywood. Disney’s deal to purchase most of 21st Century Fox ends the era of the "Big Six" major movie studios, toppling one ...
Published: 12/15/17
St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction since 2015, is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2019.The five-story, 137,100-square-foot building will house businessman and collector Rudy Ciccarello’s...
Published: 12/15/17
Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Today is the day that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act will close for most people. But those affected by the slew of hurricanes that pummelled Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states earlier this year can take advantage of a two-week ...
Published: 12/15/17
Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

A record-breaking number of Americans are expected to travel this holiday season.The American Automobile Association projects that 107.3 million Americans will pack their bags and travel more than 50 miles by planes, trains, automobiles and other mod...
Published: 12/14/17