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Clearwater restaurant founder Judy Farrell spread the love

Judy Farrell was known 
for her sense of humor and pleasant demeanor. She died March 12.

Farrell family photo

Judy Farrell was known for her sense of humor and pleasant demeanor. She died March 12.

Judy Farrell showed up at her restaurant every day around 10 a.m. In recent years, her sons Bennett and Dan were running Lenny's, but she still loved to schmooze with customers.

She'd often plant herself at a booth up front or greet regulars right at their tables.

"How ya doin', babe?" she would ask.

They'd chat about their families and life.

"She would talk to everybody," said server Joanne Willas. "She was a social butterfly."

Mrs. Farrell, who founded the restaurant with her husband Lenny in 1980, died March 12. She was 69. She had a chronic lung condition and got sick about two weeks ago, said Bennett Farrell, 47. Lenny Farrell died in 1990 at age 55.

Late Thursday morning, Phillies fans and regulars crowded the diner. A few dozen patrons waited outside. Some sat on benches or on the curb. Inside, the Hobbs family was grabbing brunch.

Steve Hobbs said he got a kick out of how Mrs. Farrell always agreed with everyone. The 4-foot-9 woman would point and say, "You know, you're right," said Hobbs, 55.

For the past year, Mrs. Farrell used portable oxygen, but that didn't slow her down much, said Hobbs' wife, Debbie.

"She walked just a hair slower," said Debbie Hobbs, whose family members have menu items named after them.

Lenny's is also a popular hangout for Phillies players, who train at nearby Bright House Field.

And Bennett said his mom was a mother figure to the minor leaguers who play there. The restaurant closes at 3 p.m., but reopens on game nights to serve the ballplayers.

"They're kids, and they're homesick," Bennett said. "They would talk to her and ask her advice."

"She always greeted them and gave them a hug," said Kevin Schauer, 50, restaurant general manager who also considered her his surrogate mom.

"She was a very special woman," he said.

When Lenny Farrell was alive, the couple almost always worked together. And they loved to horse around, Dan Farrell said.

"He was a very funny guy," he said. "She was kind of the straight man."

Her sense of humor can be seen in the quotes she painted on ceiling tiles at the restaurant. "Artificial intelligence usually beats real stupidity," one says. "The older you get the better you realize you were," says another.

Her humor also graces the menu, which says the restaurant is a Clearwater landmark "since 1958 or so." It actually opened in 1980, Bennett said.

Oddly enough, the restaurant matriarch didn't like to cook. She handled the business end of things.

Her signature dish at home was Chicken l'Orange, which was basically chicken with orange juice poured over it, Bennett said.

Dan Farrell's wife, Mettayya, said Mrs. Farrell gave her advice when she was invited to a slew of functions and was asked to prepare lots of dishes.

"Oversalt it, burn it beyond recognition and no one will ever ask you to bring anything again," Mrs. Farrell told her.

Mrs. Farrell was also a talented acrylic artist, who dabbled in pottery.

Mrs. Farrell's niece, Nancy Jacobs, said Mrs. Farrell was like a big kid.

"She dressed in Halloween costumes even as an adult," said Jacobs, 49. "She loved to tell jokes, but couldn't remember punch lines."

One of Mrs. Farrell's favorite pastimes was traveling to Biloxi, Miss., with her sister, Frayda, to play penny slots, Jacobs said.

The family came from New York to Florida in the 1970s. They started their first Clearwater restaurant, a Sambo's, on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard a few years before they opened Lenny's.

Mrs. Farrell never really got over her husband's death, Bennett said. His passing left a big hole in her life.

"She missed him for 20 years," Bennett said. "Now they're back together.

"I'm sad because I lost my mother, but I'm happy for her because she's back where she needs to be."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Clearwater restaurant founder Judy Farrell spread the love 03/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 20, 2010 2:06pm]
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