BOGOs, summer specials and shortened hours.

Our annual summer slowdown prompts local restaurants to take sometimes-drastic measures to survive until snowbirds return.

Many say, “It’s all for our locals,” but few have put that promise to such all-around good use as Café Venice Restaurant & Bar owner Kay Kropac.

“We were trying to think of something we could do over the summer, for the locals, to help us and also to help somebody else,” she said.

Her Guest Bartender Mondays, where local-celeb bartenders raise money for chosen charities, have become much more than a summer stopgap. They’ve exploded into standing-room-only galas that no one wants to see end.

After the café’s move to a new location across W. Venice Avenue, Mondays were slow, especially offseason.

“So we decided to try out guest bartenders on Monday night, when there’s nothing going on, to see what would happen,” said Kropac. “Venice mayor John Holic was first. And then things just went crazy.”

Guests started lining up well before the Monday happy hours began at 5 p.m., to enjoy the bartenders of the night and their signature drinks.

City council member Jeanette Gates and husband Jeff, who own Beechwood Builders, put a smoker behind the bar for Smoked Beechwood Bourbon cocktails. Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight mixed up Knightcaps.

Celebrity bartenders competed gleefully over who could raise the most for their charity.

“Tom Knight is very competitive, so he joked that he was going to beat James Griffith. He even made up Old West-style ‘Wanted: You at Café Venice’ posters,” Kropac said.

It was the first time in Knight’s 11 years as sheriff, he said, that he’d ever done anything like it.

“Kay knows that I raise a lot of money for different causes, especially where children are involved. So, she thought it would be pretty cool to have the sheriff as a bartender. I told her I’d do it — as long as the money went to Family Promise of South Sarasota County. We also had a chance to talk to the crowd about what Family Promise does and give them more exposure in the community.”

The Family Promise mission, in South Sarasota County as elsewhere, is to help homeless families with minor children. Its ultimate measure of success is having a family move into their own place.

“It was crowded and a little overwhelming,” Knight admitted. “But those three hours were well worth it. And there were two bartenders there helping me.”

Family Promise Executive Director Jennifer Fagenbaum said, “Kay Kropac is a genius for doing this. People were saying, ‘You never would’ve caught me here on a Monday night,’ but now everybody looks forward to it.”

Guest Bartender Mondays will continue through Sept. 30. The bartenders will return for a grand finale the first Monday in October. Closed Labor Day.

By then, Kropac figures, guest bartenders will have raised well over $10,000 for local causes including Loveland Center, All Faiths Food Bank, Our Mother’s House and the Boys & Girls Club of Venice.

Café Venice,101 W. Venice Ave., is open Monday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 10 p.m.


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