The place was packed even though it had been raining all morning when I met Carlson on Labor Day. Carlson, the oldest of eight children, is warm and upbeat. “I love my job,” she said, “because I get to throw a party every day.”
We sit on the back porch of Kelly’s under a beautiful oak. I order the Eggs Benedict with lemon tarragon hollandaise and asiago cheese. It’s divine. I’m not a food critic, but I do know that I have never had Eggs Benedict as good as at Kelly’s. And I have tried. Every time I am on vacation, I dream of waking up and eating Eggs Benedict, but I never find anything that compares. (I guess I need to vacation in Dunedin.)
With 23 years of history at Kelly’s there is a lot of subjects we could cover. Carlson gives me the highlights:
Patch: How did it all start?
Carlson: I was waitressing at T.G.I. Friday’s while I was getting my bachelor’s at USF, and then I was headed to law school. Virgel (Kelly) was a friend, and he said he was opening a restaurant in Dunedin. I waitressed the first Sunday it was open, and that started my love affair with Kelly’s. I went crazy for Virgel’s conception of fresh food. We make everything from scratch, even the mayonnaise.
P: How did you go from waitress to co-owner?
C: A few months after Kelly’s opened, Virgel’s business partner decided the restaurant industry was not for her. I cashed in my retirement account and bought her out. I owned a restaurant but didn’t know how to cook. Virgel had to teach me.
P: What made The Chic-a-Boom Room happen?
C: In 2001, we bought a liquor license and were going to expand Kelly’s to include a bar. So I was standing out in back imagining what a bar would look like, and I glanced over at the bakery next door. I walked right in there and asked if the owner would sell it to me, and she said, "Yes."
P: And what about Blur?
C: I had seen a documentary about a man who bought every bar in his town. He said if he was going to have competition, it might as well be against himself. I loved that idea. The building where Blur is had been vacant for some time. One day I saw someone walking around inside of it, and I knocked on the door. It was a real estate agent. We bought the building at the top, right before the real estate market crashed. And the day before we closed on it, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was five years ago. It was a chaotic time.
P: Tell us your recollections of starting Dunedin’s Mardi Gras and Wines the Blues with the Downtown Merchants Association.
C: What I remember is sitting at Blur when it was called the 325 Club and Gregory (Brady) was manager. We were lamenting not being able to go to New Orleans and decided
to have Mardi Gras in Dunedin. We had six weeks to put it together. Six weeks! That is nothing. The original parade was so small we made it go around the block twice. And we never thought about cleanup. So we had to sweep the downtown ourselves; we worked till dawn sweeping the streets.
One of the wine vendors said to us, "This was a great idea. You should do it again in six months." And that is how Wines the Blues was created. Nov. 12 is the 20th
anniversary of Wines the Blues and we (the founders) are going to do something fantastic. I’ll leave it at that. But it will be spectacular.