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Longboat Key Friday, Nov. 19, 2021 6 months ago

Workers on Longboat Key share stories of Thanksgiving on the clock

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Someone has to keep the island running, and it often falls to first responders or restaurant servers.
by: Nat Kaemmerer Staff Writer

Conjure up traditional images of Thanksgiving, and you’ll likely get a busy kitchen, relatives crashing on the couch, thousands of calories and post-turkey naps. However, not everyone devotes their day to just dinner.

Hundreds of people dine out on Longboat Key, servers whisk turkey dinners to and fro and first responders are on the job in case something goes wrong.  

“When you’re at the firehouse, you try to bring as much normal to the holiday as possible,” Lt. Alan Jenkins of the town's fire-rescue department said. “You do things you would do on the holiday at home.” 

So firefighters do things potluck-style, like a big happy family dinner — but one that doesn’t involve familial tension or wine-fueled arguments partway through the evening. Everyone gets assigned a dish; this year, firefighter-paramedic Ron Koper is responsible for the green beans. The way dinner gets done usually depends on who’s on shift. One year, the firefighters did a turkey fry. 

Firefighters make the most of the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift on the holiday, Koper said. Families come in and the kids run around together. Firefighter-paramedic Brian Kolesa said his wife sometimes prefers when he works the holiday, because she doesn’t have to handle the whole enchilada at home. Even with the big gathering, there are plenty of leftovers every year. 

“We get to have tons of food, and she doesn’t have to cook everything because everyone brings something,” Kolesa said. 

Inevitably, Kolesa said, a call comes in while dinner is being prepared — kitchen smoke calls are common. Choking calls, too. But the goal is to get as many firefighters sitting down together with their families as possible.

“We try to realize that everyone wants to be home with their family,” Kolesa said. “If you're on shift on Christmas, some of the older guys that have already got the opportunity to spend time with their kids for Christmas will come in early so the newer dads can go home and have Christmas morning with their kids … We try and make the best of it for everyone.”

Meanwhile, server Carrie Hodges‘ day at the Lazy Lobster starts around 10:30 a.m. and ends around 9 p.m. Typically, the restaurant serves about 600 people a year, but thankfully, most of those are easy orders: Turkey dinner after turkey dinner after turkey dinner. 

A turkey dinner at the Lazy Lobster, which is the meal of choice for most diners of the day. Courtesy photo.

“It's actually a lot easier,” Hodges said. “We have a smaller menu and pretty much everybody gets turkey, so it's a super easy day. Everyone is pretty much getting turkey. It just runs very smoothly.”

There are some regulars who come every Thanksgiving, especially older couples who don’t want to do the whole song and dance just for themselves. Hodges has worked three Thanksgivings at the Lazy Lobster, but because she’s long been in the food service and hospitality industry, there are probably more holidays she’s spent with coworkers than family. 

“I’ve always worked at restaurants, so I don't think I've had Thanksgiving at home in something like more than 15 years,” Hodges said.  

Sgt. Lee Smith of the Longboat Ket Police echoes the normalcy of a Thanksgiving on the clock. Whether he’s been in the military or on the police force, it’s often just been a Thursday to him throughout his career. Thanksgiving is done on Fridays. 

“Over the last 23 years I’ve probably spent more holidays on than off with family,” Smith said. “We just kinda push holidays to the right with family. It’s a normal day. Every once in a while, my wife makes lasagna and brings it in and we’ve had a couple families come in and have lunch with us. This year it’s just gonna be routine, but my wife is organizing beach cleanup for Thanksgiving sunset, so afterwards I’ll be doing that. For the most part, we just take the calls and it really can be normal.”

Meanwhile, Longboat Key Club food and beverage director Bob Weil’s day is anything but normal. At the club’s Thanksgiving buffet, more than 600 people come grab a plate or three, and Weil is running around making sure everything goes smoothly. He sometimes grabs a piece of turkey while on the fly.

“I’ll have to be everywhere,” Weil said. “I’m also sort of the glue if there’s an area that's particularly busy at one point. It’s a full day for me. At the same time I’m trying to touch base with employees there because they’re away from their families and loved ones. It’s a sacrifice to be away from family and some are putting in a partial or full day, and I want to thank them and make sure they know we appreciate it.”

Even before Thanksgiving, the club gives out turkeys to all employees. The employee cafeteria also feeds about 400 employees that day and Weil makes sure to run turkey dinners out to the security guards at the gatehouse during the day too. 

“We have our turkey dinner, dressing, all the fixings, so if they’re not having a turkey dinner at home, they’re certainly having a turkey dinner at the club,” Weil said. 

It’s a crazy busy, all-hands-on-deck week for the club as guests and members and families flock to the various sections and activities, but staff have made connections with guests over the years. 

“It really is a family time for us … For members, it’s seeing their extended families that we have seen for 10-plus years, kids who are now 15 or so,” Weil said. “You have those progressions. I’ve spent almost 21 years at the club and there are some sets of members who I’ve seen their kids grow into adults. A lot of our staff are longtime employees, so they see it too … There’s an energy during the holidays, you’re excited … there’s an energy that’s not there during a typical shift.”

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