PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Manatee County serves up new cafe contract for beach

BRADENTON — With the Manatee County Commission’s approval of a new contract with United Park Services for the concession at Manatee Beach, Mark Kahana said he was excited about taking over the operations.

“I’m sure we’ll do a great job and earn the respect of the community,” said Kahana, president of United Park Services, after commissioners voted 4-3 to award the contract for the restaurant and retail shop to the Tampa company.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence by the commissioners,” he said.

Based on the comments from most of the 31 people who spoke before the vote, Kahana and his partners, Mark and Debra Enoch, will need to gain the confidence of their new customers.

The speakers were passionate about their satisfaction with the current operators of the Cafe on the Beach, Tommy Vayias and John Menihtas, who sub-lease the facility from contract holders Dee and Gene Schaefer.

“It’s in the best interest of the county not to change what’s not broken,” said Stavros Tingirides, attorney for Vayias and Menihtas.

That was the sentiment of most who spoke as they told of their desires to keep the Cafe on the Beach operation the same as it has been since the Schaefers took over the concession in 1992.

Frank Riecker, of New York, said he fell in love with the people who run the restaurant, and it was the reason he moved to Manatee County.

The atmosphere the concession operators provide was a big draw for many of the speakers, and they said they feared that would be lost with new people who will be in charge.

Pamala Conners said Monday night she saw children dancing with their grandparents to the live music on the patio.

But Kahana said after the meeting they intend to keep the character of the community the same.

The new agreement calls for United Park Services, which also has the contract for the Fort DeSoto County Park concession in Pinellas County, to pay Manatee County $342,000 a year during the five-year contract.

They also will make $308,000 in capital im- provements to the county’s facilities, including upgrading the parking lot side of the building by removing the refrigerator and garbage bin, and replacing them with a mural and tables with umbrellas.

The indoor dining area will be converted to a coffee shop and ice cream parlor.

Three commissioners — Carol Whitmore, John Chappie and Joe McClash — voted against approving the agreement, which takes effect July 21. They said the decision should be based on more than just the financial benefits to the county. Commissioners Gwen Brown, Larry Bustle, Ron Getman and Donna Hayes voted to award the contract to United Park Services.

Whitmore said she grew up on Anna Maria Island, and Manatee Beach was an important part of those years.

When she became a Holmes Beach city commissioner in the early 1990s, the contract for the concession was being decided and McDonald’s wanted to come to the beach.

“The city commission said no,” Whitmore said, “because they wanted to keep the character.”

McClash questioned why the county selection committee did not take into consideration the local preference policy of the commission.

“These are local jobs and local people,” he said, referring to Vayias and Menihtas.

Kahana said after the meeting they intend to interview the current staff and employ as many who are willing to stay.

Also, the Enochs said they were looking for a home in Manatee County.