When Jim Copening and Donna Slawsky moved to Bradenton from New York six years ago, they had a culinary vision for what they wanted to establish.
With their Arts & Eats restaurant in the Village of the Arts, 1114 12th St. W., they said they accomplished just that. The couple recently announced they will permanently close the restaurant’s doors after Mother’s Day.
“This neighborhood allowed us to create exactly what we had in mind,” said Copening.
Their journey began in 2012 when the couple traveled to Sarasota for a fishing trip. Slawsky spotted a flier advertising the Village of the Arts and made a visit. From there, they fell in love with the area and found a place to open their restaurant.
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Arts & Eats is an equal experience, Copening said. You get art and you get great, unique food. Slawsky, who learned mosaic art in New York, curates a gallery of art to adorn the walls, and Copening, who has been in the restaurant industry for more than 40 years, serves as chef.
Arts & Eats is named after the experience you should expect when you visit, Slawsky said.
“Art is a big part of what we do,” she explained. “The art aspect started when we moved here and painted the walls, but selling and displaying art was always our idea.”
But art plays a big role in the food as well, Copening said
“We try to make it look good on the plate, too, but flavor comes first,” he said. “We want high-end quality.”
Copening boasts his ability to mimic cuisines from all over the world and attributes it to growing up in the Big Apple, a city where cultures mix like no other.
“I’m from New York, so I have to have my ethnic foods – my Italian, my Jewish, my Jamaican. I need that,” Copening said, who incorporates these styles into his menu.
Despite what Copening calls an experience unique to the area, that’s not what’s most important. Customer service and hospitality come before anything else, he said.
“We present it like you’re coming to someone’s house for dinner,” said Slawsky. “It’s casual and it’s friendly.”
After Mother’s Day, though, customers will have to seek out another spot to find, art, food and familial customer service all in the same place.
Copening and Slawsky said they enjoyed their time running a restaurant, but it’s a demanding business and they’re ready to move on.
“I want to enjoy my life while I still can,” said Slawsky, who is in her 60s and pointed out that her father died at the age of 58.
“There are different phases of life. You build your career, relationships and family all at different stages. I’ve seen this with all of my friends. At 50, you realize you don’t need to advance your career to prove anything anymore.”
Arts & Eat’s final day of operation is Mother’s Day for a very special reason, Copening said.
“We’re closing on Mother’s Day in honor of our mothers. I recently lost mine and Donna lost hers,” said Copening. “We used to close shop during the summer to spend time with them, so it’s only right that we dedicate our last day to them.”
Even though they won’t be able to spend time with parents in retirement, there are still adventures to be had. Copening said he has a trip planned to visit the Amazon this fall.
In the meantime, the restaurant in its entirety is for sale, including all the furniture and equipment. “All you need to do is unlock the door, and you’ve got a restaurant ready to go.”
The closing isn’t goodbye, however. The pair says they’ll be open to hosting small private parties and dinners in the future. But for now, it’s time for a change of scenery, Slawksy said.
“Life is all about changing focus. I never like to get stuck doing one thing for too long.”