Since she was a little girl, Kay Kropac knew what it took to turn a restaurant into a "second home."
Her mother owned and operated the historic Hellriegel's Inn in Painesville, Ohio for 48 years, where Kropac grew up learning how to make patrons feel like extended family members.
This mentality stayed with Kropac when she relocated to Southwest Florida to work as a server for Café Venice. When the owner decided to sell, she bought the venture in December 2006.
"I don't think there was ever another option for me other than this business," Kropac says. "My family and home has grown to include Cafe Venice, my staff and my regulars."
It is a combination of Kropac's warmth and Café Venice's décor that makes the eatery seem like a residence. The Tuscan motif, the 100-plus bottles of vino, the beer and wine bar, and the live acoustic concerts make Café Venice a cozy hotspot for downtown Venetians.
"My vision for the restaurant was creating a friendly place where anyone could come to get great food, good wine and service," Kropac says. "I love knowing all our guests' names and favorite drinks."
Executive chef Joel Sardinha whips up signature items like the Grilled Romaine Salad with feta, yellow onions and balsamic reduction; the Crab Cake Sandwich with homemade remoulade; and the Chicken BLT Sandwich with sweet chili mayonnaise on a ciabatta roll.
Kay says, "I am proud to be a part of The Originals. My favorite thing about the group is that they cater to the independent restaurant owner and support each other."
Kropac will never forget when a guest once told her: "It's not only the quality of food that keeps me coming back; it's the environment you have created. You make everyone feel like family."
For Kropac, her regulars are her relatives.
Café Venice Restaurant and Wine Bar: 116 West Venice Avenue | Venice | 941-484-1855 | www.cafeveniceontheisland.com
Author: Abby Weingarten