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There's always a way

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

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.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I like Snook. He is good looking and reminds me of my former cat, Maynard G-String. I think Maynard was a little smarter than Snook though - not one to go sailing nor fall overboard. He did skirt the edge of our pool a lot but that was the end of it. Maynard was very street smart.

    Loved the story of Denise and Billy. They sound wonderful!! I was looking at some Hot Wheels the other day. I probably will never think of them the same way again.
    1327 days ago
  • 68ANNE
    tugging those heartstrings with that one!
    1328 days ago
  • _LINDA
    Such a wonderful story! People who can deal with disasters and keep their wits about them are one in a million. I would bet their eatery would be an awesome place to visit..
    1328 days ago
    Okay third try. First my computer locked up, second session timed out and finally...
    Thanks for sharing with us the story of Snook and the place named after it, but mostly the people. They seem to be caring and fun filled people. Denise is in my prayers as are you my dear friend, who continues to write and share with us these phenomenal stories.
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    1328 days ago
  • GABY1948
    emoticon story, Suzy...I love your blogs! emoticon
    1328 days ago
    A wonderful story Suz, thanks for sharing!
    1328 days ago
    How wonderful! I wish them the best
    1328 days ago
    What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing!
    1328 days ago
    Nice story. Glad to see you blogging again.
    1328 days ago
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