Pancakes and Politics. . .

Vacuous bureaucrats have a way of looking at things that work – traditions and proven best practices that make sense.  Then, with the right application of unimaginative routine, sterile processes, and robotic paper shuffling they find a way to muck things up. 

Unfortunately, over time we have been sold on the fallacy that bigger is naturally better – and our faux-reality is often crafted by some corporate marketing image group. 

I hate to break it to you, but Cracker Barrel isn’t really a ‘country store.’ 

It is a 633 location publicly traded mega-chain built upon the concept of identically laid out retail outlets that serve as a convenient waiting area for the theme restaurant – strategically funneling hungry customers toward branded food, apparel, toys, and tchotchkes to provide maximum product exposure.   

And, for the uninitiated, Latitudes at Margaritaville is a zero-lot-line ‘immersive lifestyle’ gated subdivision based on Jimmy Buffett’s well-crafted sense of escapism, built on top of eco-sensitive pine scrub miles from an actual beach. A fabricated Eden blanketed with wood frame cracker boxes “starting in the mid $300’s.”  

That pseudo-utopia may appeal to some, but to my taste, that contrived horseshit is as far from paradise as one can get. . .     

Why is it that our ‘powers that be’ fail to recognize and protect those things that are truly distinctive – a place, service, or attraction that is genuinely sui generis and unrepeatable in nature – things built on hard work and time-honored tradition that become part of the unique culture of our community by virtue of their longevity?

When the hard-earned success of these one-of-kind places becomes attractive to those with resources and a profit motive, it suddenly becomes survival of the fittest, as government engages in corporate welfare schemes to skew the economic playing field in favor of influential insiders – or falls back on narrowly defined procurement policies and officious processes that fail to take anything into consideration other than the size of the bid.       

According to reports, next month, after six-decades of continuous family operation, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant at Deleon Springs State Park – thought by many to be the most unique restaurant in America – will cease to exist as we knew it thanks to a recent decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection who oversees state park concessions. 

Cooking your own buckwheat pancakes on an open griddle at your table in the cozy little eatery has been a family tradition in Volusia County since I was a small child.  Generations of people have gathered around the beautiful clear spring, toured the museum, and walked the grounds while they wait for a table in the 100-year-old wooden building.

This wildly popular local attraction has been lovingly operated by the Schwarze family for 61-years.

Recently, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection accepted a competing bid from the Virginia-based mega-hospitality management company Guest Services, Inc. effectively ending the Schwarze family’s successful operation and destroying a local small business for a few dollars more. . .    

According to the family’s post on social media earlier this week:

“After 61 years, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill will be closing its screen doors.

While it is unfortunate, the state has decided not to renew our contract and move forward with another concession in the DeLeon Springs State Park. We have been blessed to serve as a Central Florida staple since 1961. We sincerely thank you for making us your “go-to” for when you’ve got company or a chocolate chip pancake craving.  Thank you again for sharing those memories with us. The Sugar Mill was without a doubt the coolest breakfast restaurant in America. Our business will close September 12, 2022.”

The Schwarze family specialized in chocolate chip hotcakes. 

Guest Services, Inc. specializes in monetizing what now passes as “hospitality” to drive revenue across a range of services to public and private entities.

Nothing wrong with that – but they are not the same. . .

You may remember in 2017 when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection came under scrutiny when they ghosted the Schwarze family ahead of their quinquennial contract renewal – simply refused to communicate with them – leaving the operation in limbo.    

Following a massive public outcry some faceless bureaucrat in Tallahassee finally got off their ass and did the right thing. . .

Now, here we are again. 

Only this time, a business carefully built by the blood, sweat, and tears of our neighbors – an experience that can never be duplicated – is lost forever.

What happened to the commonsense notion of our municipal, county, and state governments providing preference in procurement and contracts to Florida-based businesses as a means of bolstering the local economy, generating jobs and regional supply chains, and creating an “economic multiplier” effect in the community where those dollars originate? 

You know, all that happy horseshit our “economic development” gurus spew when selling us on another corporate welfare shim-sham for an influential local billionaire or mega-donor to all the right political campaigns? 

Yeah. Don’t give me any shit about competition in a ‘free market economy’ until mom-and-pop receive the same tax-supported largesse and access to the public teat as an insurance magnate or some well-heeled developer with a chip in the game.

Speaking of those do-nothing Volusia County bureaucrats sitting atop piles of federal Covid-19 recovery funds and those self-congratulatory “experts” over at Team Volusia – where were they when we needed them to protect a long-time area business? 

What was more important to these empty suits than saving a family-owned business that has created jobs and served our tourist industry for six-decades?

And why did they sit idle as the Schwarze family was summarily out bid for a high-profile local contract by a national hospitality management conglomerate?   

And where were our incumbent local and state politicians who are so damn busy groveling for our sacred vote – telling us everything they think we want to hear – bickering, backbiting, and grooming their abhorrent records, while the Schwarze family and the unique experience they provided to our community, was being outsourced to an out-of-state mega-corporation specializing in “…luxury communities, hotels, resorts, government and business dining facilities, full-service restaurants, state and national parks, outdoor recreation, boathouses, marinas, museums, conference centers, senior living communities, health care systems, school and university dining facilities, and specialty retail stores.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for answers.

What a damnable shame. . . 

22 thoughts on “Pancakes and Politics. . .

  1. It’s a stinking shame that life as we know it is all about The Benjamin’s which you very eloquently pointed out. And thank you for mentioning Jimmy Buffetville. I’ve been noticing in the Sunday edition of what is loosely called a newspaper, the deed recordings show many who bought into “the dream life “ are already selling. Must’ve stepped on a pop top.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Perhaps Guest Services, Inc. Kissimmee operation at Paradise Palms Resort provides some kind of economy of scale to allow them to have a better bid, but I doubt it. Perhaps the family-owned business tried to make a little too much money for its members than the market would justify. In any event the bottom line is the state properly goes with the contract which, all else being equal, benefits the state the most as measured by dollars and cents. It’s perhaps more eyebrow-raising that the same private operation could have been renewed for over 60 years at a specific public facility: that seems unusual. BTW some reports suggest that the pancake griddle tables will remain with the new vendor, but we’ll see.

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    1. Just went into resales on the internet and a 2 bedrooom 3 bath with pool 2400 sq ft in Margaritaville pending at $899.999.Proves you cant stop stupid

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  3. Great article! We loved eating there with out of state company. It was always a great experience. Bigger is not always better, That great experience will be gone forever. Big business and stupid politicians kill another small business.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My friend, Erin Glover-Frey, wrote this on my post about Sugar Mill shutting down. I thought I’d share…

    BTW, I love your blog.

    “For what it’s worth, The original owners’ daughter sold to someone else a few years ago. She wanted to retire. Patty had the magic touch with that place and the new owners were having trouble with it, not to mention COVID in the meantime. Source: my parents are really good friends with Patty Schwarze, the daughter of the original owner. She let us use the mill for our wedding (first and last – someone complained, and the state shut down all future events). We’ve been to countless “family” Thanksgivings there. It is sad, but it hasn’t been the family business that they are selling themselves as for a few years now.”

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  5. Spot on. We took all guests and family there for years. We won’t go back because it will no longer be local and special. Corporate greed triumphs again over a mom and pop business. What a shame!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As another post indicates, no longer in fact a “mom and pop.” And if they’re paying more to the state for the right to do business, how exactly is that “corporate greed”? Facts matter.

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      1. On Tuesday, John Michaelos, managing partner for family-owned Schwarze Enterprises, confirmed that the company had been outbid by another vendor, Guest Services Inc., for a contract with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to operate the restaurant as well as provide other services at the state park that include kayak rentals and the gift shop.”

        “ We simply were outbid by somebody, it’s as simple as that,” said Michaelos, in a short cash-register break from taking nonstop orders for a line of customers that necessitated a four-hour wait for a table.”

        —The Daytona Beach News-Journal August 9, 2022

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      2. “Our [concession agreement] came up for bid, and we were outbid by another concessionaire,” said John Michaelos, the restaurant’s managing partner and current owner of Schwarze Enterprises, noting he doesn’t know the amount of the winning bid. “We’ve been here as a family business since 1961, that’s a very long time … Of course, I’m worried [about our employees]. It’s life-changing for everybody.”

        The Orlando Sentinel, August 9, 2022

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  6. Good news! The state is finally paying attention to our parks. Bad news. Its probably because they realized that there’s a back door way to develop businesses in those parks. That’s genius. The sooner that they can erase the symbols that are our connection to the Florida that we knew, the easier it will be to, as you say, “shovel ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag.”

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  7. You hit it on the head again.Only here 6 years now and never knew about this place and would love the drive.We had a big discussion with neighbors as we just went to a restaurant for 5 years and it was sold and horrible.Volusia is now the home of franchise or chain trash.Figs went out on Granada.No where to eat anymore that is any good and no violations from the health dept especially Chinese and Mexican restaurants.Prices going to the moon.Margaritaville resales being listed on zillow for 800 thousand.Make sure you register as a dem before the 87000 new IRS hires do a Lois Lerner.

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  8. We all know change is inevitable but why is the change rarely “better”? These type changes are always about the money and not the community.

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  9. To answer your question Mark, Team Volusia is not charged with expansion and retention of local businesses. That task is under the purview of Volusia County’s Economic Development department. But hey, never let lack of research get in the way of undeserved criticism…

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  10. This is literally in Brower’s backyard and he had nothing to say about this state giveaway. This is his bucket of water to carry! He can fill that bucket from his septic field!

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  11. Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant UPDATE:

    The following is what my office has been able to obtain directly from the Dept of Environmental Protection which handles our state parks and facilities within those parks. If you have questions, please reach out to my office.

    Thank you,

    Rep. Fetterhoff

    Response/Details from FL DEP regarding the Old Spanish Sugar Mill:

    The department initiated the Call for Business Plans at the end of May, in anticipation of the current vendor’s contract expiring on Sept. 30, 2022. This is a routine occurrence as we near the end of concessionaire agreements. The department received five proposals in response to this solicitation, including one from the current vendor, Schwarze Enterprises, LLC, which were distributed to independent evaluators for review in late June. Staff then also received in person (virtually) presentations of the top four proposals in mid July. The Call for Business Plans include the criteria the department evaluated in making the award for the concession agreement. Guest Services, Inc. was ranked first, while Schwarze Enterprises, LLC was ranked fourth.

    While the final concession agreement is currently in development, I can share that Guest Services, Inc. was selected as the new concessionaire for De Leon Springs State Park. To clarify, Guest Services, Inc. will continue all the services and experiences that have made the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House such a treasured part of a visit to De Leon Springs State Park. The restaurant’s famous cook-your-own pancakes will still be available in the authentic, sugar mill building overlooking one of Florida’s most beautiful natural settings.

    In addition, Guest Services, Inc. will take over merchandise resale, tour boat operations and recreational equipment rentals, including canoes and kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, paddles and associated safety equipment, for visitors.

    To reiterate, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill is not closing. The only closure we anticipate is on Sept. 12, 2022, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House will temporarily close while the historic structure gets a new roof. These renovations will not only make the restaurant more resilient but will also ensure it is energy efficient.

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