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Kevin Boehm on the “Lazy Daze” that helped him kick-start his career


Kevin Boehm

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Updated: July 6, 2013 6:35AM

Two decades later, it still sounds like a bad idea. 1) Drop out of college. 2) Move to the Florida Panhandle with less than $500 in my pocket. 3) Wait tables nonstop and save tips. 4) Take said tips and then open a restaurant. Even typing it feels dumb. I still can’t believe it actually worked.

It’s been almost exactly 20 years since I opened The Lazy Daze Café in Seaside, Fla. Lazy Daze was a humble, six-table restaurant that hid in the shade of what was then a very sleepy town. In Seaside, you did 90 percent of your business six months of the year, and if you wanted to be able to pay your rent come January, you needed to be a good squirrel and bury your nuts for the cold winter ahead.

I was a really lousy squirrel. I barely made it out of that first winter, surviving on a couple of tables a night, a steady diet of PBJs and Ramen noodles.

My partner Theresa and I were the entire labor force. Our best marketing came on day five when the oven exploded in my face, catching my hair on fire. I spent the night in a Destin hospital and by the time I went back to work the next day, face scabbed and eyelash-free, the whole town had heard what had happened. It took a good 45 days before I looked normal again, but the spike in business was worth it.

Like I said, Seaside was awfully quiet back then, which allowed me to make plenty of mistakes without the scorn and contempt of big-city diners and big-city critics. How slow was it? The Salty Dog, a bar down the street from Lazy Daze, kicked a disorderly woman out one night, and as she struggled to cross the road, she passed out, finding a comfortable bed across the white lines. Some 90 minutes later, when the bar shut down, patrons found her lying in the road unscathed. That’s how slow.

I was so lucky to be doing exactly what I wanted to do and that the long days, terrible pay and hard work seemed like a blessing. Do something you love and you’ll never work again — it’s not just a good Facebook status, it’s an incredibly true statement that I have based my whole life on.

We sold the restaurant in 1995 to a lovely man named Sandor who found great success in the little town that would not remain so sleepy. Where the Lazy Daze Café used to sit is now a parking lot. The building was designed to be moved, and someone did just that a couple of years ago, placing it 5 miles up the street in a pretty little town called Alys Beach. I went there recently, and as I stepped into the restaurant, my sense memory took over. I once again felt like that 23-year-old first-time restaurateur: nervous, excited, scared, hungry and hopeful.

I love anniversaries. It’s been 20 years since my first, and 10 years since Rob Katz and I opened the first Boka Restaurant. I love them because I’m nostalgic, and because there are so many lessons in your past that you should never forget: Be sensible, work hard, look out for exploding ovens — and most of all, keep dreaming.

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