AVON PARK — During the past year, there has been changes to the Olympic Restaurant, one of the oldest continuously open eateries in Highlands County.
Besides a new bar, there’s an outdoor screened-in area, a less congested salad bar section, new booths and modernized restrooms.
“I did the renovations for my customers to give them something beautiful and cozy,” said Maria Tsakalos, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Jimmy Tsakalos. This year the Olympic will celebrate 35 years of being continuously open.
Meeting the needs of customers and providing them with good service and food are what local restaurant owners like Tsakalos say allows them to survive the slower period during the long, hot summers.
Since the snowbirds left this year, several restaurants, including The Bricks Bar and Grill, Flames Waterside Restaurant and Bar and Zeno’s Italian Restaurant have closed.
But restaurants like the Coffee Bean in Sebring remain open. Patrice Heacock, the chef and manager, said the restaurant has remained open for 24 years.
Only during the last three years did the restaurant, which is known for its quiches and reuben sandwiches, began staying open during the summer. That was because a lot of customers wanted them to be open, Heacock said.
And even that doesn’t satisfy all the customers. One asked this week when the restaurant would open for breakfast on Saturdays, Heacock said that will happen in late October.
“It’s been a tough summer,” she said. But it’s helped, she said, that “I have my regulars come in every day.”
She said to help bring in customers she’s advertised with some coupons. Heacock said she also lowers the inventory and continues to provide fresh, tasty food during the off-season.
At the Palm Diner in Sebring, manager Ryan Rinderle didn’t hesitate about saying what helps the eatery survive through the summer.
“It’s our regulars,” he said. “We have people that come in twice a day. Most of our staff knows 90 percent of the guests by name.” He also said customer service is a key.
Demitris Panos, the owner for more than two years, said consistency is also important. The restaurant keeps the same hours throughout the year, and maintains the same service and quality of food.
“To remain profitable you have to be stable. You can’t cut corners,” Panos said.
He said restaurants also have to use some of the profit during the season to survive the rest of the year.
Michelle Urweider, who along with her husband, Keith, owns the Fairmount Café, said for them this summer was phenomenal.
She said during the summer they get a lot of business people who want to be served relatively quickly so they can get back to work.
“We keep everything fresh and clean,” she said.
The Cuban bakery and restaurant in Sebring, a family-operated eatery, has stayed in business for seven years.
On a Friday morning when there was continuous business, owner Dayane Zamora said she hasn’t seen a slow period during the last couple of years. They get a lot of business from doctor’s offices and regulars, she said. It’s been so busy they hired more employees, she added.
Daily specials, Cuban sandwiches and pastries draw in customers, she said.
Keeping prices affordable is also important, she said. Her father travels once a week to Miami where he is able to buy food at a good price, Zamora said.
The quality of the food also helps, she said.
The Olympic stays open during the summer. Tsakalos said they closed for about a week for the renovations and credits contractor Rick Hays for getting the work done so fast.
They’ve kept favorites on their menu, but have added a few items, she said.
On Facebook, many people indicated that good food and service help keep them going back to local restaurants. Other favorites include Jimmy’s Greek American Grill, the Blue Lagoon, Market 27, Dee’s, Cowpoke’s Watering Hole, Dutchers, Eighteenth Street East, Rosarios, Garden Cafe and Ranchero Cafe Restaurant and Mae Lee’s International Deli.