Cozie Cafe, on Bayshore Road next to the Charlotte Harbor Publix plaza, was so well liked as a breakfast spot that its owners also opened Breakfast Barn three years ago, next to Gatorz Bar & Grill. Sadly, neither enterprise would survive.
Jennifer Clark, who had been serving at Cozie Cafe for a year before it closed in October, never owned a restaurant before. But she’s had more than enough on-the-job training.
So, when she and husband Robert Rance saw the opportunity to buy Cozie Cafe, they said, “Let’s try it and see what we can do.”
Both she and Rance already had some idea what they could do, having been involved in Arcadia restaurants for a decade.
Rance was the first owner of Taste of Italy (later Cafe Italiano and Angela’s), in the big pink Rosin-Koch Arcade Building that he managed on the corner of Oak and Polk streets.
Originally from Ohio, Clark has been in Florida for 16 years. She spent 10 of them working alongside an Arcadia legend —Martha Clement, longtime owner of the 61-year-old Slim’s Bar-B-Q & Grill.
“Martha taught me a lot, including finishing whatever you start and ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness,’” said Clark of the owner who long ago lost track of how many Arcadian Readers’ Choice Best Barbecue awards she’d won. “I was always there, doing everything from serving to cleaning.”
Slim’s team members like Clark quickly master the cordial art of the best waitstaff, along with the virtue of hard work. After delivering food instantly, piping hot, Slim’s servers will wink as they give the totally unnecessary apology “Sorry for the wait!”
But when a car accident limited what she could handle physically, Clark had to start working closer to home in Port Charlotte.
Now Port Charlotte can count on her to run a tight ship at her own place —even though she isn’t the eatery’s eponymous Mean Jeanne.
“Oh, that isn’t me,” she explained. “I was going to name it after my granddaughter, but my mom said, ‘You can’t do that. You’ll have more grandkids, and you can’t exclude them.’
“So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll name it Gramma Jeanne’s, after you.’”
“Nope,” her mom shot back. “Name it Mean Jeanne’s!”
“She didn’t believe I’d really do it,” said Clark with a laugh, “until I sent her a picture of the sign out front.”
And for those who wonder, the river in this “Riverside Restaurant” is the nearby Peace, and its signature genie is a play on the name Jeannie.
In the two months the cafe was closed, Rance and Clark changed everything else, too.
Its 33 seats are still laid out with a diner-style counter and tables, one of them in a semi-private alcove by the entrance. But the interior has changed from a darker green-and-woodgrain, country-cottage look to a sunny blue-and-white nautical theme.
“We have a real simple menu, with breakfasts, burgers, subs, wraps, sandwiches, soup and salads,” said Rance.
Clark added, “We have a great Philly cheese steak and awesome biscuits and gravy.”
Their chef, Brian Kirkwood, originally from New York State, has been cooking his whole life, most recently at Maple Leaf Golf and Country Club and as sous-chef at Venice’s Crow’s Nest. His daily specials have included homemade soups, such as steak chili and Manhattan clam chowder and blackened grouper po’ boys.
Breakfast and lunchtime regulars are slowly finding their way back, pleased that their favorite spot has reopened under new management.
Mean Jeanne’s Riverside Restaurant, located at 22637 Bayshore Road, next to the Charlotte Harbor Publix at Port Charlotte Crossing, is open Tuesday to Saturday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to close. Cash only; ATM on premises.
For more information, call 941-743-0010.