Barefoot Cafe owners sell Vero Beach restaurant to travel | Laurie's Stories

Barefoot Cafe owners sell Vero Beach restaurant to travel | Laurie's Stories
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Steve and Lisa Horn opened The Barefoot Cafe in downtown Vero Beach in 2007. They talked to TCPalm Monday, April 9, 2018, about how now that their kids are grown and they have their health, they’re selling the business and traveling the country to visit the national parks. Patrick Dove/TCPalm

It’s the changing of the (barefoot) guard.

Lisa and Steve Horn, who opened Barefoot Café on 14th Avenue in downtown Vero Beach more than a decade ago, have sold their business.

This was heartbreaking news for the small restaurant’s loyal customers, including me.

But my disappointment turned into excitement when I found out why they were leaving — and again, when I learned whom the new owner would be.

The Horns have been married for 30 years and have been running restaurants together the entire time.

They live in Fort Pierce and previously were involved with four restaurants there. First, they opened the Beer Garden, now the Orange Bloom. Then, they were the managing partners of the Original Tiki Bar, followed by Manatiki, now Cobb’s Landing. Last, they opened the Taphouse Sports Grill on U.S. 1 at Ohio Ave., now a Walgreens.

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In 2007, they decided they wanted to open a Monday-through-Friday place in a downtown area.

“We had teenagers at the time,” Lisa said. “We worked late nights our whole lives, and we wanted to do something where we could close down early and sit down to have dinner with the kids.”

“Whether they liked it or not,” Steve added.

They looked at properties in Fort Pierce and Vero Beach, where they found what they wanted. However, the location on 14th Avenue had less cooking space than what they were used to. It didn’t have room for fryers and ovens.

“We were looking for an inventive way to try to blend flavors,” Lisa said, “so we did the grilled wraps.”

Steve, 57, usually cooks in the back while Lisa, 53, runs the register at the front, but they still help each other out like a team.

She described the restaurant as casual and laidback to make customers feel comfortable, and they wanted its name to reflect that.

“It’s like a way of life,” Steve said. “It’s like a thought process: no worries.”

In fact, they were relaxing in Jamaica for their anniversary in September when they started talking about selling Barefoot Café. Usually, they owned a restaurant for four to five years and then moved on to open another, but this had been the longest they’ve ever owned a place.

They said they got comfortable, even complacent.

So, in the next year, Lisa and Steve are liquidating their assets to travel across the nation. The empty-nesters were inspired by their well-traveled daughter while they were hiking in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

“There’s so many awesome places in this country to visit,” Lisa said. “There’s so many majestic national parks. We’re just going to head west and start seeing them, and we’ll work along the way.

“We have our health now,” she added, “so we want to use it.”

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A lot of people, including me, have expressed jealousy at the couple’s plans. As an ardent supporter of national parks who’s experienced the inspirational majesty of the Grand Tetons, I told them they’re living the dream.

“The house is a lot to take care of,” Lisa said. “We could work at hiking a trail instead.”

They said they’re OK with letting go of the restaurant and are hopeful for its future. People have wanted them to open longer than lunchtime, but they didn’t want to work nights and weekends.

That might change with the new owner: 31-year-old Will Watkins, who just happens to be a friend of mine. He told me a long time ago about his goal of opening a sandwich-type restaurant, something he has been working toward the past five years.

Watkins was born in Miami, but his dad’s family is from Fort Pierce and his mom’s family had a home in Vero Beach.

He worked from the bottom up to manager at a Chick-fil-A in Miami and then helped at the location on State Road 60 in Vero Beach.

His grandma told him about the restaurant listing. Watkins remembered when he went to Barefoot Café for the first time, he went home and tried to replicate the sandwich he had. He said he always liked the food and the location.

So, he put in an offer and closed the deal with the Horns at the beginning of April.

“It’s really what I want: a small-town feel, good quality food and the possibility of growing,” Watkins said.

He wants to expand the restaurant’s hours into the weekend and possibly dinner time during the week.

But that’s it as far as the changes go.

“Everything’s pretty much going to stay the same,” Watkins said. “I think what they have here is an awesome thing, and I want to keep what they have.”

He plans to continue what Lisa and Steve started, so he learned as much as he could from them during the two weeks of transition while they still were around to teach him. Lisa even passed on her grandma’s recipes for the restaurant’s soups and salads.

I tested Watkins without him knowing and ordered my usual: the Cajun chicken wrap with a side of macaroni salad. It tasted delicious, exactly like it always has.

He’ll have help from the staff with the food, but Watkins knows he’s going to have to work hard to get to know the community as well as Barefoot Café’s original owners.

“My biggest challenge is replacing Lisa and Steve,” Watkins said. “You can’t replace Lisa and Steve.”

Laurie K. Blandford is TCPalm’s entertainment reporter and columnist dedicated to finding the best things to do on the Treasure Coast. Read her weekly column, Laurie’s Stories, on TCPalm.com. Follow her on Twitter at @TCPalmLaurie or Facebook at faceboook.com/TCPalmLaurie.

Barefoot Café

Location: 2036 14th Ave., Suite 100, Vero Beach

Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday

Information: 772-770-1733 or www.thebarefootcafe.com

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