Kenny Barr got his start in his family’s restaurant business washing dishes at The Waffle Stop in the 1950s. Later, he owned and operated Shenkel’s restaurant on Longboat Key for more than 25 years with his mother, Edith Barr Dunn, before opening the Sports Page Bar & Grille in Sarasota with Bob Richards in 1995.
Even as a restaurant owner, he didn’t shy away from grunt work.
“Going back 30 years, (from) when Kenny had Shenkel’s to the last days that he worked at the Sports Page, Kenny was always working,” said Jim Macdonald, a friend of Barr’s who co-owns the Crab & Fin on St. Armands Circle. “He was always bussing the table, greeting a guest, coaching an employee and just being where he needed to be to make the restaurant the best he could.”
Kenneth Hugh “Kenny” Barr, of Sarasota, died May 8. He was 73.
Born Feb. 20, 1941, in Chicago, his mother thought it was natural to put her sons to work in their family restaurants when they were young. Her other son, the late Loyall “Lee” Barr II, hated the restaurant business, but Barr loved it.
Barr graduated from the Peacock Military Academy in 1959. He served for four years of active duty and two years inactive duty in the U.S. Air Force and attended the University of South Florida, where he was captain of the bowling team.
In December 1968, he partnered with his mother as owner and operator of Shenkel’s, which was so popular it often had a long line, particularly during Sunday breakfast in season. He managed the restaurant and worked the grill on occasion, but on the busiest days he went straight for the dishes — the most important thing, according to Barr Dunn, because diners wouldn’t have a good meal if their dishes were dirty.
At the restaurant’s peak, Barr and his mother — whom he called “Edith” because he considered her his business partner — were often so busy they made appointments when they needed to talk.
They closed Shenkel’s April 24, 1994, and Barr opened the Sports Page with Richards the next year.
At both Shenkel’s and Sports Page, Barr was known for his support for community organizations.
“Whether it was at Shenkel’s or when he and Bob owned the Sports Page, any time any charity or community effort needed someone to help out, make a donation or hold a party, they would always be there,” said Andrew Vac, a longtime local Realtor and past president of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce.
Several of his Sports Page employees were the children of Shenkel’s employees.
“This the highest compliment a restaurateur could get: Nobody worked for the Barrs; they worked with them. They worked with Kenny and Edith,” Macdonald said.
Sports Page closed last year, after a developer demolished the building for a new condo project. The restaurant closed April 24, 2013 — 19 years exactly after Shenkel’s closed.
Barr had a wide circle of friends that extended beyond the Sarasota area. Macdonald remembers gambling trips their group of friends took to Las Vegas, St. Kitts and Biloxi, Miss. No matter how far away the destination, Barr always ran into a friend or two.
But his best friend was the one he worked alongside for 26 years — his mother and business partner, Edith.
A few days before Barr died, he told her how wonderful it was working together.
“He said, ‘In all those times, we never had an argument,’” Barr Dunn said, her voice breaking. “We never had an argument,” she repeated.
“He wasn’t only my son, but my best friend,” Barr Dunn said.
Barr is survived by his mother, Edith Barr Dunn; stepbrothers, Smokey Campbell and Craig Campbell; and stepsister, Katie Shannon.
A funeral service will take place at 1 p.m. May 15, at St. Martha Catholic Church, 200 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota. Interment will follow at Sarasota Military Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation or Tidewell Hospice.