Staff and Community Help New Restaurant Navigate COVID
Alex King was visiting his parents in Englewood when he began scouting locations to open a restaurant. “I kept driving by this place,” he said. That place was the Blue Lagoon, sitting just off Placida Road and overlooking calm water; it had been closed for years.
King, who lives in Rotonda, had a vision of a “welcoming and cozy” restaurant where people could relax and enjoy the refined pub-style food he planned to create in the kitchen. But the Blue Lagoon was not that restaurant. The interior was, to put it kindly, dated and King was not a fan of the decor or the awkward flow of the dining rooms.
But King couldn’t resist the setting or the square footage. He gutted the place, brought in 500 pallets of wood for the walls and floors, built tables, strung lights, and added corrugated metal accents, creating a large open dining room and modern, eye-catching bar. He transformed the exterior, moving the Roman concrete balustrades to the back to create an herb garden. King did much of the work himself with the help of “a lot of YouTube videos.”
King shared his progress on Facebook, announcing on February 25, “We are almost there” and that Ken & Barb’s Grove City Kitchen (named for his parents) was hiring. “We were very close to opening and working out the last details,” he said. Then COVID hit and everything came to a halt.
To adhere to state regulations, King had to clear half of those custom-built tables out of the dining room. Patio seating was out for anything but drinks, since the narrow space did not lend itself to social distance dining. Ken & Barb’s finally opened on May 28 to an enthusiastic crowd and, because of the limited seating, long waits for tables. Ironically, the restaurant’s namesake Barb had to return North before the opening, and Ken only got to visit once.
King, 39, has been working in the restaurant business since he was 14, and owned two very popular sandwich shops in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. At Ken & Barb’s he makes everything, from the honey-herb dressing for the Cobb Salad to the batter for the Parmesan Veggie Bites and jam for the Baked Brie, from scratch. The menu includes burgers, salads, wraps, sandwiches, wings, six kinds of fries, vegetarian offerings and dishes that show off King’s years in MA, like Atlantic Cod Fishcakes and P-Town Clam Fritters.
Knowing he’d be in the kitchen “90 percent of the time,” King assembled a team of experienced hospitality pros. Service Manager Chris “Mo” Moore said he reached out to King after reading about his “vision” for the restaurant. Moore, who moved to the area from Las Vegas, said, “The community support has been overwhelming.” Moore said that the size of the restaurant allowed for a successful and socially-distanced event for the Englewood Chamber. Moore said that he loves hearing customers share stories about the old Blue Lagoon and seeing their reactions when they walk into Ken & Barb’s for the first time.
“It was mind-blowing,” said Robert Bounds, who brought his three children in for a repeat visit to Ken & Barb’s. “The old Blue Lagoon was out of the 70’s. They did a great job.”
Debi McNeil had never stepped foot in the Blue Lagoon but says she likes Ken & Barb’s because it’s different from all the “tropical” restaurants in the area. “It reminds me of Yellowstone,” she said while enjoying a
While the community has embraced Ken & Barb’s Grove City Kitchen, General Manager Gina Marcum, says operating a restaurant these days is very challenging. “There’s a new speed bump every day.” King has had to postpone offering a dinner menu until the fall and with the limited seating, they are only taking reservations for eight or more. Marcum experienced a speed bump of her own.
When COVID-19 slammed the hospitality business, she lost her job at Marriott. “I had no idea that it was going to affect the world the way it did,” said Marcum, adding that losing her job led her to contact King about a job in May. “When I walked in this restaurant I knew I was supposed to be here,” she said. Marcum said she is impressed by King’s menu and enjoys working in a place where even the juice and simple syrup at the bar is made from scratch.
While he says, “working with a mask on is tough,” King is happy to be able to build his own menu in a place he literally built himself and is looking forward to adding dinner entrees this fall. And he’s looking forward to the day he can pull all those custom tables out of storage.
Ken & Barb’s Grove City Kitchen, 2000 Oyster Creek Drive, Englewood. Hours: 11 am to 9 pm daily, reservations for 8 or more, take-out available. www.kenandbarbs.com.