DADE CITY — Gail and Glen Greenfelder describe the restaurant business as a black hole. When Gail hatched the idea to develop a casual downtown eatery 19 years ago, a look in her eye told her husband it was going to cost "a whole lot of money."
"It did," Glen said, "but we weren't motivated by money." Now, they're getting out for personal and business reasons.
"Everything is for sale," Gail said, "and getting older we felt we needed to simplify our lives."
This summer, Glen sold his senior partnership in one of Dade City's largest law firms, Greenfelder, Mander, Murphy, Dwyer, and Morris. Then this month Gail turned over ownership of popular Kafe Kokopelli, a downtown dining mainstay.
Moving on from their respective careers, the couple took time to reflect on their history of hospitality while sharing their plans for a busy retirement.
"My priorities had to change," said Glen, 70, who developed heart disease three years ago. "After 41 years working cases and overseeing a staff of 28, it became too much."
"Everything in life has a season," said Gail, 67.
On Nov. 1, she wept while informing 30 employees that she had sold the Kafe Kokopelli name and goodwill, along with leasing the 8,000-square-foot property with 28 table tops, to chef Steve Queen Jr.
Her paternal grandfather William Poulos emigrated from Greece to New York during the late 19th century. He became a chef at the Waldorf Astoria hotel before opening University Lunch Room in Lexington, Ky. Gail learned to cook from Poulos and her mother while growing up in Chicago.
She ventured out on her own with a Checker's franchise in Dade City before meeting her husband. Then, while buying furniture at a Meridian Avenue store that abutted an old Ford dealership, she and Glen discovered a cavernous space with both history and potential.
A subsequent sleigh ride in Beaver Creek, Colo., provided inspiration.
"It was French doors that solved the problem of creating privacy in open space," Gail said. "I also discovered the Southwest American Indian fetish figure of Kokopelli, a flute-playing Casanova who brought rain and fertility to the cliff dwellers."
When the restaurant opened in 1996, big game taxidermies were mounted on the walls and ceilings in honor of American Indian dependence on buffalo, caribou and moose for survival. Glen's passion for history, architecture and design also influenced the inlay of his collection of arrowheads and shards into table tops.
The menu became American steak house eclectic, including Gail's family recipe for She Crab bisque, Glen's grandmother's recipe for fried green tomatoes, and a house salad dressing developed through trial and error. Serving salmon on cedar planks was another instant hit.
For the first 10 years, Gail was present every day modifying the menu, circulating among customers and rarely raising prices. She credits loyal employees for their longevity. Today she praises the new owner/chef Steve Queen.
"He will bring real comfort for old favorites and introduce new tastes from New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C., at Dade City prices," she said.
Sylvia Tipton continues to serve at Kafe Kokopelli following 14 years working for the Greenfelders.
"It's been a smooth but sad transition," Tipton said. "Gail and Glen were so good to me and I miss seeing them. But it's also exciting that new ideas have come along."
Bill Dennis, a city commissioner for 19 years, recently dined at the new Kafe Kokopelli. "The food is just as good since the new ownership," he said. "I doubt this new owner will be as philanthropic by providing a good place to eat and improvements to that whole section of town."
For an encore the Greenfelders plan to market their salad dressing and She Crab soup through a bottling company at the Dade City Business Center. In addition, Glen has joined former Judge Peyton Hyslop at a small Brooksville law firm, just "for the fun of it."
"I've been told to enter politics," he said. "I'm known for a tradition of giving back to my home town, but never flaunting it."
Their charity was widespread over many years. In 2003 the Greenfelders gave $1 million to his alma mater Saint Leo University during a capital campaign and endowment fund drive. The restaurant saw its share of charitable efforts too.
"People in need who approached the restaurant received our help," Gail said. "We needed to equalize our donations to accommodate everyone."
Now the Greenfelders plan to stay close to home and focus on their six grandchildren.
"We worked our entire life for our family," Glenn said. "Now it's time to impart those values to them."