PORT RICHEY — It didn’t take much for Denny Petrov and wife Ellie to convince their two sons to turn in their winter coats for tank tops.
Another cruel February winter in Longmeadow, Mass., was the last straw for the Petrov family. Having visited the Port Richey area before on summer and spring vacations — and falling in love with the outdoors scene and sunny weather — they knew it was the right area for them to settle down.
Nearly a year after moving to Florida, they settled on a plan: open a kayak and canoe rental business inside of the Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park. The clientele was already there from a previous kayak rental that closed.
In November 2020, Salty Dog Kayak Rentals became the new local spot.
“This is one of the cheapest ways to get out on the water,” said Denny, 42. “Everybody wants to get outside these days and find some kind of outdoor recreation.”
In August 2018, the Petrovs were boating out in Anclote Key and Denny struggled to anchor the boat. Park manager Adam Belden came over to help. They bonded over their mutual love for the outdoors.
They saw each other again late in 2019. Belden shared that he was trying to find someone to restart the kayak rental operations at Werner-Boyce after the previous operator left.
The Petrovs already had decided to leave their corporate jobs at Aspen Square Management, a national real estate investment and property management firm. Belden’s proposal was the “mom and pop,” small-business venture they were looking for in Pasco County.
Salty Dog Kayak Rentals offer single and tandem kayaks (starting at $20.99/$30.99) in addition to canoes (starting at $40.99) for two-, four- and eight-hour intervals. And they’re pet friendly.
The family isn’t out to compete with higher-trafficked, more touristy areas like St. Petersburg, Honeymoon Island or Clearwater Beach.
“One of our main goals was to provide an affordable way to get people on the water because it’s always been such a huge part of our family’s life,” said Ellie, 44.
Every customer is given a life jacket and paddle with their kayak or canoe. Dry bags and cell phone lanyards are also available to rent out. Customers often leave their car keys at the desk with Ellie.
Customers have the option to paddle toward the Salt/Cauldron Spring or out toward the Gulf, depending on how long they rented their watercrafts.
On the weekends, the two Petrov sons, 17-year-old Kail and 15-year-old Lex, help out their mom and dad. Typically, Lex stays with Ellie at the front desk area to help check in people who made online reservations or walkups, and Kail will help Denny at the launch and return point.
The online reservation system makes it easy for the family to know how many extra kayaks and canoes are available, if any, and what time to expect people. If the weather or tides don’t permit, the family is flexible with rescheduling and refunds.
“We want them to get out on the water, but we want to do it safely,” Denny said. “That’s just something that we can never ever compromise on is the safety for our customers.”
The business already is looking at ways to expand.
The Petrovs have had customers ask about a rewards or membership program. They’re also trying to plan monthly sunset paddle experiences for the first Friday of every month. Additionally, Denny — who is certified as a coastal kayak instructor — wants to offer beginning courses for people who are uncomfortable going out for the first time.
Last June during the pandemic, the family saw how much people needed the outdoors as an escape and wanted to open their business as soon as possible.
“That really was a big driving force for us,” Denny said.
“It’s been great to see people that come in and when we launch them, they’re still wearing their masks and they’re out on the water floating and I would shout to them, ‘Hey, you don’t actually have to wear masks anymore,’ and they’re so relieved that they can regain a little bit of sense of normalcy and be out there and have a great time that they had before this unfortunate year came upon us.”
The Petrovs haven’t looked back since they opened their business. And they’ve found there’s just one circumstance for having a bad day:
“Only when we can’t get people on the water,” Ellie said.
|Boat Type||Single Kayak||Single Kayak||Single Kayak||Tandem Kayak||Tandem Kayak||Tandem Kayak||Canoe||Canoe||Canoe|
|Time||2 Hours||4 Hours||8 Hours||2 Hours||4 Hours||8 Hours||2 Hours||4 Hours||8 Hours|
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