When Betsie Coolidge opened Café L’Europe in 1973 with her late husband, Titus Letschert, she never envisioned it would become an icon, beloved 40 years later by residents and tourists alike.
“Back then, I was so young, I couldn’t even imagine what 40 years looked like,” says Coolidge.
Now that the restaurant has reached that milestone, she has many images in mind — “way too numerous to count,” she says. A short list includes rehearsal dinners, birthday and anniversary dinners, fundraisers and holiday galas. “They were all so special and done with panache,” Coolidge says, adding that she always felt “blown away” after ringing in a new year surrounded by friends — her customers and employees — at Café L’Europe. “It was like we were in New York City, not the sleepy Sarasota of that era (the 1970s).”
Café L’Europe’s official anniversary is Monday, Jan. 21, but the celebration lasts all month, including special menu items and new branded merchandise. Coolidge replaced the restaurant’s italicized logo with the original script font, which she and Letschert had discussed before his death in 2011. When she mentioned the idea on Facebook, more than 300 fans weighed in, voting 5-1 in favor of it. The staff unveiled the new “old” sign to the public Thursday, Jan. 3, immediately preceding an anniversary luncheon. Among the attendees were Ken and Susan Peifer, who were delighted the event fell on Ken’s birthday, which called for a special meal. The couple recently moved to Longboat Key from San Francisco and declared they “would become regulars.”
In addition to Coolidge, two employees have been a part of Café L’Europe from day one: Marshall Gillen and Judy Longmate, both members of the wait staff. When asked how she achieved that longevity, Longmate said the years fly “when you work in a really good house like this serving great people.” Many of her closest friends are the restaurant’s patrons, she said.
Get ’Em While They’re Hot!
To commemorate its 1973 beginnings, Café L’Europe is bringing back three items from its original menu, but just for the month of January. Don’t miss these favorites:
• Crêpes de mer
• Dover sole meunière
• Café chicken salad served in a pineapple boat
Patrons can give their homes some European infusion by purchasing some of the new Café L’Europe branded products, including:
• Etched wine glasses
• Herbes de Provence
• White balsamic vinaigrette
• Maple pecan dressing
• Coffee beans