TAMPA — Lynn Love figured his birthday would be a great time to bid farewell to a decade-long labor of love, both of them being occasions to celebrate.
So that's when Love decided to close the doors for good on Love's Artifacts Bar and Grille, partying with customers one last time April 8 at his eclectic gathering place on MacDill Avenue just south of Gandy Boulevard.
Love, who sold used cars before he got into the restaurant business, is ready for yet another chapter in life.
He doesn't know exactly what it will be, but that's just where he was when he decided to get into the restaurant business.
"I am sad due to the fact that my role as restaurateur comes to an end for now," he told fans of Love's Artifacts on the business' Facebook page, where he promised a "clear out the refrigerator" final brunch.
Love started grilling hamburgers in a mobile kitchen he parked at his used-car dealership, Love's Auto Sales, once he saw that cars alone weren't paying the bills.
He did everything himself — cooked, cleaned, took the garbage out, and even prepared his own signs. His efforts paid off as he pulled people in.
His unexpected success prompted him to open Love's Artifacts, a place he says has taken on a life of its own — growing into far more than a place to eat.
The restaurant was defined in part by welcoming service and a forest of quirky collectibles, such as a dangling vintage airliner and the looming statue of a circus ringmaster.
There's no shortage of loyal customers. For many, a visit to Love's Artifacts became like plopping down at the kitchen table.
"Going into Love's felt like going into a family member's home," said Jacqueline Oliverio, a regular who walked to Love's from her house at least once a week.
On Facebook, Oliverio waxed poetic:
"Your dream added value to our lives through relationships that we built with strangers while sitting at your bar. Or reconnecting with a familiar face, friend or neighbors while you fill our belly's with amazing soul food."
Love's Artifacts, at the north end of Ballast Point, even helped boost the surrounding neighborhood, she said. This was in part through the way Love turned his time and space over to charitable causes and civic organizations like the Rotary Club. He served as president of the local club in 2008.
With tears in his eyes, Love recalled the time an ex-employee sent him thanks for changing his life by hiring him at time when no one else would.
Still, Love said, he knew it was time to quit — while he and the restaurant are ahead.
"One day I saw my dog out in the patio laying, staring at the clouds, so I went and I laid next to him. I looked up and thought, 'This isn't so bad.'"
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However he manages it, Love, who just turned 61, aims to live a dog's life now.
"The saying, 'Life is short' gets truer with time."
He credits the success of his place to his concern for customers' well-being and experience. Running a restaurant, he believes, is like running a show — you have to have a script and the wait staff are performers.
He also credits valuable lessons he learned while working as a kid with his father in construction.
"My dad would tell me, 'You have to anticipate my next move. If you see I'm going to cut something, have the chain saw ready."'
He applied that approach to the service at Love's — with peanut butter-stuffed jalapeños instead of chain saws, and maybe a nice cocktail pairing for a popular menu item.
He has sold the restaurant property, he said, to a local group that plans to open its second restaurant there — a neighborhood where waterfront commercial and residential development is booming just up Gandy.
Love said he never worried about learning the business. And he won't worry about what comes next.
"My dad always told me, 'If you know too much about something, you'll never do it.'"
Contact Claudia Guerrero at firstname.lastname@example.org