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New ownership revives Fancy's

(ran South, East, Beach editions)

Marie Miller took a customer by the arm. "Yes, I remember you. Of course I remember you," she said, speaking like an old pal as she led him toward the chicken sausage.

Such greetings and old-time small talk have been as typical the past few days as orders for French bread, Merlot wine and filets at the new Fancy's gourmet food store.

The store, which surprised an army of faithful customers when it closed at its old location in August, is back in business at 1003 Fourth St. N.

New owners Cary and Kendra Burns opened the doors on Saturday.

"It was like a neighborhood reunion," said Kendra Burns. "People were coming in and had tears in their eyes. "Thank God you're open.'

"

Fancy's became a kind of institution, especially in northeast St. Petersburg, during the 15 years previous owner Max Elson operated the upscale shop. Now, some familiar faces are back on duty: Wine manager Miller, gourmet specialist Lisa Shumaker and "Chef Mike" Bjork were mainstays in the old store and have returned to work in the new one.

The store is about one-third the size of the old one, but it looks much the same, even down to the green, scripted "Fancy's" on the sign outside. Inside, the color scheme and shelving is similar.

And the food offered will be the same as always: fresh meat, seafood and herb chicken breasts, for example; fresh-baked bread, brownies, cheesecake, pate, pasta, salads, salsas, sauces and gourmet cheese. Food baskets and the catering service return.

And about 150 different wine labels will be available, featuring hard-to-find popular brands and small runs from wineries that might distribute just a few cases in the entire Tampa Bay area.

The Burnses said they have wanted to start a small business for quite a while. But they bought Fancy's almost on a whim, saying at the time they couldn't imagine St. Petersburg without the store.

Each has had a variety of professional experiences, but this is their first try in the food business. Opening has been an adventure.

"Had we known what all was involved, it would have scared us away," said Kendra.

"We were too ignorant to know we couldn't do it," Cary said.

They learned about everything from payroll management to minute details such as the green paper that lines the trays in the meat counter.

Friday before the opening, the store was cluttered with ladders, boxes and shelves. Family members, Elson, and Elson's wife, Barbara, worked alongside the new owners to help get everything ready.

By opening time Saturday, "it was like the fairy godmother waved her wand. Everything fell into place," said Cary Burns.

Elson himself got in the kitchen and cooked Saturday and will help out through the holidays. "Max just feels a real strong bond with the name and store," said Cary Burns. (Elson plans to open a restaurant at the old store's site on Fourth Street N and 30th Avenue.)

Sunday, meanwhile, brought another problem. The pastry case quit cooling, and some desserts melted. A repairman was in all day; new confections had to be made.

"Every time something happened, we'd just look at each other and say, "Okay, we can do this!'

" Kendra Burns said.

Do it they did. The store is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10-7 on Friday; and 9-6 on Saturday.

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