Cedar Key businesses open despite salty setback

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Owners worry tourism will decline

By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Chef Peter Leonauvicius, grilling and sautéing, doesn’t use a lot of fresh water in preparing food, and he doesn’t worry about the salty water he has to use to wash dishes. But he does worry that it will keep people away from Cedar key.
“It’s not a health issue,” Leonauvicius, co-owner of Cedar Key’s Steamers Clam Bar and Grill, said Friday about the sodium chloride-laden water that has infiltrated the island’s water supply. “My main worry is about the loss of revenue. That’s the big deal.”
Leonauvicius said the announcement that the city’s well field was contaminated couldn’t have come at a worse time. Summer, he said, is the slow season for island businesses. He said it was too soon to tell how business might be affected. Still, he worries what people think when they hear the words “contaminated water” on local TV and radio stations.
Just a few doors down from Leonauvicius, Ken’s Cedar Keyside Diner owner Ken Bryant said he has the same worries. Bryant said he uses about 13 gallons of fresh water a day in orange juice, tea, coffee and even in his pancake batter. The lack of potable tap water has been an inconvenience, he said, but, like Leonauvicius, he said his biggest worry is that customers will be scared away.
“We’re already, I think, starting to feel it,” he said. “The news on TV gives the downside but doesn’t talk about what the town does to keep things going. It’s kind of like the oil spill,” he said, adding that he volunteered to help hand out free bottled water at the city’s fire department once it became available.
“Breakfast has dropped drastically today,” Bryant said about his business, “and yesterday’s numbers were down.”
Bryant said he wants people to realize that island restaurants and businesses are still open. “We’re ready,” he said, “and we’re making everything safe. My diner is …. People should feel comfortable.”
“Yeah, we’re not buying any salt at the moment,” joked Annie’s Café owner Glenda Richburg  from the busy kitchen of her restaurant.
Richburg, who’s been in business for more than 20 years, said she uses about 35 gallons of fresh water a day. “It’s an inconvenience, but it is what it is.”
Richburg said she was concerned, as well, that the news might deter visits to the island. “I’m scared of it, but hell, it’s just like everything else.” The whole economy is a mess, she said.
Kim Cash, a chef at the Island Hotel and Restaurant, said one guest had already cancelled a stay at the hotel because of the news.
“Without the tourists coming down here … if I don’t have people eating in the restaurant, it cuts my hours down,” Cash said, adding that the restaurant uses about 15 gallons of water per day for cooking purposes.
Levy County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carol McQueen said, “There’s no reason people shouldn’t be going (to Cedar Key).”
People can still take showers and wash clothes, she said. And restaurants have access to fresh water. Cedar Key is a resilient community, she said, and it is pulling together.
“I think the best thing to do is … get the word out that everything is great.”