Reclusive local personality Snook the Cat, of the new Snook’s Bayside Bar & Grill at Englewood’s Royal Palm Marina, has granted a rare interview to Sue.
Sue: Now that the “Zeke’s” name has gone to Zeke’s Uptown on Dearborn Street, what’s it like having your name on Bayside Bar & Grill?
Snook: Frankly, it should have borne my name all along.
Sue: Snook, you’re no stranger to the Sun. Readers might recall how you fell overboard and were rescued by Billy and crew last spring.
Snook: It took them rather a long time to save me, but that Billy is one clever human.
Nine years ago, a little girl was giving away kittens at Dearborn Corner Market. A marina mechanic scruffed one up, and the rest is history. Now Snook supervises new managers Denise (“Dee”) Trent-Morrow and Billy Lillia at Snook’s Bayside.
Resourcefulness, kindness, and determination to get things done not only saved Snook’s soggy hide when he tumbled into the bay; they also describe Denise and Billy.
Shortly after the couple met in 2003, Denise would learn the meaning of “doing a hurricane.”
Mara Routh, Billy’s boss at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, knew that he could fix stuff. He could MacGyver up gadgets to get just about anything done, not to mention bartend hordes of thirsty concertgoers. After Hurricane Charley, she figured he was right for her team at MOE Catering and Restoration Services, which deploys disaster relief after major storms in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. They provide power, restrooms, showers, housing, and food to first responders and townspeople. Billy’s first job with MOE was feeding FPL workers after Charley.
A year later, Denise joined him on the team deployed to Louisiana the day after Hurricane Katrina. Their first stop was Franklinton, where they supported electrical workers who got the town running. They unloaded tractor trailers, put up tents, and made sure everything ran right. Says Denise, “When we moved out, the townspeople lined the fence rails with signs thanking us.”
Chalmette, in ravaged St. Bernard Parish, was their next assignment. It was worse there.
Billy still tears up when he remembers, “We cried all the way there. I had to stop and get sick by the side of the road because of the devastation we drove through.”
When they reached Camp Premier in Chalmette, “thousands of people were sleeping in tents and had nothing. We’d do anything to brighten up their lives.” At every Walmart stop, Denise stocked up on Hot Wheels. They soon called her the Camp Fairy, that lady with the twinkling eyes and cascading red hair who always had a toy in her pocket for kids who were good. And Billy was “Jersey Boy,” who, it appeared, could be dropped down in any disaster and find a way to help.
One night before Christmas, the 1,600 occupants of the mess tent were tucking into their roast beef dinners when a heartbroken wail rose over the crowd. “Mama, how’s Santa gonna find us? He’s never gonna know where we’re at!”
Fighting tears, the Camp Fairy got a pencil and paper, and told the little girl, “I work for Santa. We’re Santa’s elves, and our mission is to find all you displaced kids, so I’m taking names.”
“Then I got on the Internet to everyone I knew, we got on the news … and we had to put up extra tents to take in all the donations.”
A preacher and his wife who’d lost their church said that, if red suits could be found, they’d be Santa and his elf. The sheriff’s department flew them in by helicopter and escorted them on a fire truck to the camp, where they gave out gifts for 11 hours. “That Christmas is the best memory in Billy’s and my whole lives,” says Denise.
They got back and started working at Royal Palm, soon becoming Zeke’s bartenders.
When they learned last spring that the restaurant they loved was closing, their determination to make things work went into overdrive. They asked owners Dale and Johnna Wentzel if they could keep the waterfront location open and help promote both places.
Since they’ve been managing Snook’s, it hasn’t been easy. Denise has had three major surgeries in the last nine months but has bounced back to work every time, grinning and joking.
Billy, mechanic Mike Probst, and Denise
Dale shakes his head, “I don’t know how you do it, Dee. You always have a smile on your face.”
And now there are two sister restaurants in Englewood that are still one big, crazy, happy family.