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Yet to open restaurant serves as shelter for needy during Irma

Comfort Craft Café is set to open to the public in Brandon on Oct. 2, but even before it welcomed diners, it opened its doors early for displaced residents during Hurricane Irma to offer shelter. The 12,000 square-foot building housed approximately 75 Floridians and 25 dogs, cats and birds during the storm.

Arlene Frisk, owner of Comfort Craft Café, knew she had a safe building with the amenities necessary to shelter people within the community. Frisk received a majority of her seating in preparation for the restaurants opening. With a generator, a lot of refrigeration, televisions and a projector and a willing chef with a stock pile of food, Frisk had all the ingredients to offer the help to her community.

"We started putting the word out through Facebook to all our friends and families on Friday and got an immediate response," Frisk said. "We initially were going to open the doors on Sunday at 10 a.m., but due to the response we got, we decided to start accepting people on Saturday at 2 p.m.–and they came."

The restaurant brought a new meaning to their motto "Where comfort is crafted" by welcoming the community. Frisk said she welcomed many of the employees from the adjacent Latino Market. The Comfort Craft Cafe building and the Latino Market are owned by William Guzman. The restaurant provided people with hot meals and an open environment.

Frisk experienced many people coming together to weather the storm and pitching in as needed. Whether a friend with health issues needed to be accommodated or adults came together to make sure children weren't afraid, Frisk saw it as a chance to lead and get everyone through.

"I was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army for 10 years and ran everything just like I did my platoon and everyone did what they were told to do and everything worked like clockwork," Frisk said. "My mother always said if I was on a sinking ship the Captain would be out of a job.

"I think that is where the exhilarating part came in for me. I knew what needed to be done and I wanted to be a leader in a time of need."