BROOKSVILLE — Karli Geer has big dreams for her business.
She envisions barbecue lovers from all over the nation stopping at a Deep South Family Bar-B-Que near their homes and scarfing down her pulled pork sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, home-style beans and brewed iced tea.
Looking toward the future, the 19-year-old sees a new restaurant franchise with an old-fashioned look: playgrounds where kids can run, and big picnic tables where families can gather to chat and dine in an unhurried atmosphere.
Geer says she's certain that such a place would be a success because she has watched it work for the past 10 years at the quaint little cypress-sided restaurant west of Brooksville on Cedar Lane at U.S. 98.
Though there have been emotional struggles along the way, there have been tremendous triumphs as well.
Through it all, Geer said, she was inspired by the kindness and generosity of customers, who helped make Deep South Family Bar-B-Que the thriving business that it is today.
"What has made this so worthwhile for me is the people I've met here," said Geer as she sat with her dad, Clay Geer, in the screened dining room of the restaurant that her family opened a decade ago, on July 5, 1998.
"They've made it a fun business to be involved with,'' she said. "People may come in as strangers but they leave as friends."
Clay Geer said the idea of launching a restaurant was inspired by his daughters. With proceeds from a $150,000 life insurance settlement that came after his wife, Karen, died of breast cancer in 1992, he set up a trust that oversaw daily operations and guaranteed that any profits would go toward putting his daughters through college.
Though neither Shelbi nor Karli was old enough to legally make decisions on how the business was run, Clay Geer said he always took their suggestions to heart. When it came to running the place, Geer says his daughters carried a large part of the load.
"They did everything from driving nails to prepping food to cleaning floors," he said. The girls even lent their own cooking talents to creating many of the menu items.
Geer credits Karli with coming up with a way to make batter stick better to green tomato slices, which are breaded and stacked together overnight in the refrigerator before they are cooked.
"She just kept experimenting with it until she came up with the answer," Geer said. "People tell me they're the best fried green tomatoes they've ever had."
In addition to being known for serving good food, the family has earned a reputation for supporting area charities.
The Geers are unswerving in their support for members of the military. Uniformed soldiers get their meals for free, a policy that Geer, a former Marine, says he adopted the day his family opened the restaurant.
"It's a small gesture to the people who are offering their lives for our freedom," he said. "I only wish more businesses would show that they care."
The restaurant has faced its share of roadblocks. In November 2000, a faulty switch ignited a fire in the kitchen and burned the wooden building to the ground.
Geer, who had only $75,000 in insurance coverage, wasn't certain he could rebuild. However, within a few weeks a new building started going up, thanks to neighbors, friends, fellow church members and customers who pitched in to help the Geer family get back to doing what they love.
Although the Deep South Family Bar-B-Que got back on its feet, Shelbi Geer would not live long to enjoy its success.
She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in 2002, and appeared to have beaten the illness. The family rejoiced.
But soon Shelbi learned that she had a resistant form of leukemia. She died June, 26, 2005, just nine weeks after her 18th birthday.
Karli Geer, a junior studying business at the University of South Florida, said that had her sister lived, she would be applauding the success of the restaurant.
"She was the idea person in all of this," she said. "She would have been so proud of what we've accomplished and would have looked forward to the next 10 years."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or 848-1435.