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Harry’s Continental Kitchens celebrates 45 years on Longboat Key

The Christensens say the key to their business' longevity has been patience and gradual evolution.

Harry, Lynn and Hal Christensen are celebrating 45 years of business in 2024.
Harry, Lynn and Hal Christensen are celebrating 45 years of business in 2024.
Photo by Carter Weinhofer
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It’s a generational thing at Harry’s Continental Kitchens.

Harry and Lynn Christensen have expanded their family business a lot over the course of 45 years. They’ve seen generations of families walk through their doors. 

All the while, they were raising their own family. 

Today, Harry’s Continental Kitchens has four main components: the corner store, the deli, the restaurant and the catering business. Hal Christensen, son of Harry and Lynn, oversees the day-to-day business as their general manager. 

Although they expanded a lot over 45 years, Harry and Lynn never grew their business past Longboat Key.

“We made Longboat Key our home,” Lynn Christensen said. “I think why we’ve lasted is because we keep our nucleus here and we stay here.” 

The Christensens found Longboat Key in 1973 during a trip to Naples. They stopped to visit an old high school friend in Sarasota, drove out to Longboat Key and decided that was far enough. 

Harry and Lynn rented a cottage in the Village and started building their life in Longboat Key. 

There were a couple stints of time when they lived near the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, they said. When Harry would be working in the Poconos, he said he would spend his days off visiting New York City, learning about different styles of takeout food. 

Around 1976, the Christensens found their way back to Longboat Key and Harry began working for Café L'Europe. There, he harnessed his methods of takeout. He said he would practice preparing dishes for chefs early in the day, so the line cooks could quickly throw the pre-made meals in the oven during dinner service. 

Then Harry and Lynn were ready for a place of their own. They started leasing their first restaurant location in 1978. 

At first, it was only the restaurant. Originally called Continental Kitchen, Harry and Lynn Christensen opened their business in 1979. Back then, it was located at 5440 Gulf of Mexico Drive. 

Harry recalled learning about the convenience of takeout food. During that time on Longboat Key, he said it was hard to get into restaurants on the island. He thought the concept of takeout with high-quality food would be a good fit. 

Takeout dishes like gazpacho with shrimp and beef Wellington were popular from the start, and remain on the menu today. 

Also during that era on Longboat Key, Harry said that condominium complexes were a lot more social, throwing cocktail parties and other gatherings left and right. 

That’s when he started doing “party specialties,” bringing platters of quality food to these parties. 

Harry Christensen
Courtesy image

Harry said he remembers when they first started the party specialties, they would have to close the restaurant early to prepare the platters. Customers would be peeking through the windows to see what extravagant platters Harry was creating. 

The success of party specialties led to the addition of their catering business. 

Over time, catering became a more prominent aspect of their business, Harry said. A reputation for high-quality food at a good price was forming for all aspects of the business. 

In 1984, Lynn thought it would be a smart business idea to create more of a brand. The business name changed to Harry’s Continental Kitchens.

Their business kept evolving, gradually becoming what it is today. But the Christensens said everything had to be well thought out, ensuring there were the proper facilities and financial stability. 

“We gradually did things as we could afford them,” Lynn Christensen said. 

While Harry and Lynn were becoming a fixture on the island, they were also raising their two sons, Eric and Hal. 

Harry and Lynn said that trying to manage multiple aspects of the business during the day and raising a family in their free time made time fly by. 

But when trying to find that balance between work and family, Harry said he always thought of it as “quality over quantity,” emphasizing the importance of making the most of the time they did get. 

Harry and Lynn also spoke proudly of the community connections they have been able to sustain on Longboat Key. Their catering business has allowed them to connect with residents at events like christenings and weddings. And returning customers have continued traditions of coming to Harry’s, bringing their families throughout the years. 

“Don’t let anybody ever go away unhappy,” Harry Christensen said as one of his secrets to success. 

Continuing the legacy

When Hal grew up, he went to Florida State University for a degree in hospitality. He started at a corporate chain where he worked for about three years after graduation. 

Lynn and Harry Christensen with their sons, Eric and Hal, in front of their first restaurant, originally named Continental Kitchen.
Courtesy image

Then, the opportunity arose to come back to Longboat Key and work for his family’s business.

He’s gotten to see his parents almost every day since he started at Harry’s 24 years ago.

Hal is now the general manager for the business. He and his parents said one of the most important aspects of their business are the employees. 

They like to give opportunities for growth, and have seen staff rise from busboys and dishwashers to servers and beyond. 

Some of their kitchen staff have been with the business for 25-30 years, Harry said. A couple in the corner store have been there since they started. 

To celebrate their 45 years of business, they plan on hosting specials including a four-course, prix-fixe menu for $45. 

A little further down the road, the Christensens are hoping for an expansion that would utilize the building behind the restaurant, currently used for storage. 

But they aren’t in a rush. Like with their previous expansions, it’s all about getting the timing right. 

And Harry and Lynn know that the business will remain in good hands with Hal in the future.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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