SAFETY HARBOR, Fla. – Safety Harbor is a small town known for small restaurants owned by real people.
“We own our businesses, we work in our businesses, we live in the city, we’re part of the community,” said Aaron Stewart, co-owner of Southern Fresh and Coastal Cantina.
Stewart said no one was better at it than Louis Kinney and owning a restaurant was his dream.
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“For some of us, it’s just in our blood, and that was just Lou,” smiled Jamie Ackendorf, who co-founded two local restaurants with Stewart and helped form a locally owned restaurant community that emphasizes collaboration and community rather than competition.
Kinney became a big part of that local culture. He worked his way up from bartending jobs to use what some call “sweat equity” to buy and then buy the Whistle Stop Bar and Grill at 915 Main Street.
It is well known among locals and visitors for its outdoor setting and casual atmosphere. There he will build the life he wanted.
“He was very clear about two things,” said his friend Scott Long. – He wanted a family and a restaurant.
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With his wife Cheryl and two young children, Lou coached children’s sports, played softball and led community activities. But just before Christmas, Long got some bad news.
Complete shock, absolutely complete out of nowhere, which made it all the more painful, Long said.
At the age of 42 and seemingly in good health, Lou suffered a heart attack and died, leaving behind his beloved family and the restaurant he had dreamed of.
“He was just starting to put his stamp on it,” Long said. – It’s really hard to understand that he is no longer here.
Lou’s wife, Cheryl, said she is focused on their children and the job Lou always wanted. There is an outpouring of support for his family, especially from other restaurants.
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“These are shirts that were made for a lot of benefits that were all over town,” Ackendorf said. The shirts feature an outline of Lou’s trademark face and beard.
Many different restaurants in town have held at least 12 fundraisers.
“We never had to knock on the door of any business,” Long said. “We never had to knock on anyone’s door to ask them for a favor.”
There is a GoFundMe campaign that has so far raised more than $58,000 for Lou’s family. They hope they can keep the Whistle Stop open.
“I just can’t think of any other community that has a group of people like this trying to lift each other up,” Long said.
Lou’s competitors are part of the community that helps keep his dream alive.