Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a series looking at the current lives of key figures in Longboat’s history.
The sign in the kitchen read: “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”
A former waitress told Edith Barr Dunn, who owned and operated Shenkel’s Restaurant, it was the thing she remembered most about her time at the landmark Longboat Key restaurant. She was one of 53 former employees who gathered for a Shenkel’s reunion May 18, at the Sports Page Bar & Grille, in Sarasota, which Barr Dunn’s son, Kenny Barr, owns.
The group laughed, reminisced and presented Barr Dunn with a scrapbook to remember Shenkel’s.
Even 16 years after Barr Dunn sold Shenkel’s, the words on the sign still stood out to many former employees, a reminder of the hard work she both expected and performed.
One former employee said he now has the same sign hanging in his Nokomis restaurant.
The sign summed up Barr Dunn’s work philosophy. She insisted on cleanliness and consistency.
“Cleanliness was next to godliness,” she said.
Another sign from the restaurant the group remembered summed up Barr Dunn’s personal philosophy: “It’s nice to be important. But it’s more important to be nice.”
Looking back, Barr Dunn says she misses the people at Shenkel’s but not the work. During season, 17- to 18-hour days were the norm. Barr Dunn often rose at 4 a.m. to bake pies from scratch. That was her routine for 35 years at Shenkel’s.
Today, Barr Dunn’s business cards still say “restaurant consultant,” a role she played for many years after she sold Shenkel’s. She’s thinking of removing the title, but she isn’t sure what to put in its place.
She continues to work with local organizations, including Catholic Charities, Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army, often running the 50/50 raffles for those groups. During season, she often organizes a 50/50 raffle every other weekend and can be seen wearing her bright, yellow 50/50 raffle apron, which she insists anyone who helps out wear as well.
But all that seems like too much to put on a business card.
Now Barr Dunn has time to pursue hobbies, such as bridge, which she learned to play three years ago to keep her mind sharp. She plays bridge two or three times a week, but she says that she’s a much better poker and gin rummy player — possibly, she jokes, because she plays those games for money.
Barr Dunn moved off Longboat Key and into a condominium in downtown Sarasota 11 years ago. But she hasn’t really ever left the Key. She never misses annual events such as the St. Judes Gourmet Luncheon or Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key pancake breakfast. You’ll see her heading up the 50/50 raffle, hard-to-miss in her trademark Stetson and yellow apron.
Today, Barr Dunn doesn’t cook — ever. She left those days behind when she sold Shenkel’s. Her refrigerator is empty. And now there’s a new sign in her kitchen. It reads: “I have a kitchen because it came with the house.”
Barr Dunn dines out with friends for just about every meal. Even on the nights she plans to stay in, a phone call from a friend inviting her to a restaurant always comes.
She’s still a restaurant consultant at heart. She notices things such as a misplaced knife on a table, although she keeps her observations to herself. She also notices when restaurants get things right. Divino Restaurant in Sarasota is one of her favorites.
When she visits restaurants, someone usually recognizes her, possibly because she always wears one of her Stetson hats (currently, she has 50 hats, down from a peak of 600). Often, they tell her that how much they loved Shenkel’s.
That always makes her smile.