MANATEE COUNTY — David LaRusso doesn’t exactly have any tricks up his sleeve, but he does have a few new ideas for getting customers to linger longer at the East County restaurant that’s claimed national spotlights in its lifetime.
As the new general manager for Linger Lodge Restaurant & Bar, LaRusso is doing everything he can think of to put the lodge on the map — quite literally — for its potential patrons.
He’s started with simple things such as tweaking the menu to have a few more healthier options and adding live music on weekends.
But he’s also added the restaurant’s address — its physical address and its GPS address — to the menu to make it easier to find.
Plus, LaRusso has every intention of fostering the lore and humor that earned Linger Lodge its fame in the first place.
“This place is an old-Florida lodge,” LaRusso said. “I don’t think we’re trying to or want to change the nature of this establishment. What we’d like to change is the perception people have. We’re trying to balance (the weirdness) with good food.”
Linger Lodge’s founder and former owner Frank Gamsky, an amateur taxidermist, lined the restaurant’s walls, showcases and even the ceiling with snakes, squirrels and other animals he personally stuffed and other local treasures.
The Food Network’s Al Roker named the establishment one of the “Top Five Weirdest Restaurants in the Country,” and even Forbes Magazine has hailed it one of the “Top 10 Most Unusual Restaurants in the World.”
“We want to present this place not only as a place to come for a visit (but also a place to come back to),” LaRusso said. “It’s still going to be weird because we have snakes all over the place and gators on the walls.”
LaRusso said the restaurant will still carry its “roadkill” menu, which features items such as “chunk of skunk” and the “Flat Cat: served as a single or in a stack,” but customers will be sure to know the menu is only a farce.
Linger Lodge’s real offerings consist of everything from fried gator to shrimp alfredo. The hush puppies are the recipe of the grandmother of Sen. Mike Bennett, a principal owner of the establishment.
In addition to healthier options, Linger Lodge now offers daily specials — such as a spinach fettuccine alfredo or a pesto pasta with grilled chicken and a center of spinach and roasted peppers — as well as family-style dining Monday through Wednesday. Boy Scouts can eat free with proper identification.
LaRusso is hopeful these changes, among others, will lure customers into the restaurant not just to look and leave but also to eat and come back as repeat customers.
The new manager also will add live entertainment. Bands already are lined up for Sunday nights — with Latitude having played Jan. 24 as a fundraiser for a local charity — and musical performances on Friday and Saturday evenings also are under way.
“We’re trying to establish the place as a fun place to come and have a great meal and enjoy some music,” LaRusso said.
LaRusso even wants to add takeout deliveries to the mix — hopefully around the same time the restaurant shifts out of its seasonal menu and into the summer season.
“If all goes well, we will be moving toward that toward the end of spring,” he said. “That’s a work in progress.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: FRANK GAMSKY
Linger Lodge founder Frank Gamsky and his wife, Elaine, are doing well, despite health issues they’ve had since selling the restaurant about four years ago.
“Things are going good,” Frank said. “Have a nice house and yard and all the kind of animals people don’t want. It’s been a crazy retirement.”
Elaine nearly died three years ago after being struck by a truck in a parking lot and has had severe pain ever since. Frank himself had both knees replaced last year.
“I’m not bow-legged anymore, and I’m one inch taller,” he joked.
However, the Gamskys are optimistic and are enjoying their time together and out with friends.
The couple visits Linger Lodge about once a week and still gets together twice a month with about a dozen former residents of the Linger Lodge Resort.