Tampa couple to reopen landmark steakhouse

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
When Tina Novak of Tampa told husband Jim she had found something in Marion she wanted to buy, he never dreamed she’d be talking about a restaurant.

And not just any restaurant, either-Novak was talking about Marion County’s landmark locale for lakeside dining, Kingfisher’s Inn.

Novak took the idea to her husband in September once she found out Central National Bank had bought the building, located along the county lake just east of Marion, in a sheriff’s sale after it had been on the market for several years by former owners Bob and Kathy Sprowls.

“The way I approached him was I just told him that I found something I wanted to buy,” Novak said.

“When he asked, I said, ‘I want to buy the Kingfisher-I want to turn it into a steakhouse and lounge.

“He thought I was crazy, he really did,” she added with a laugh. “And that’s pretty much where it all started.”

After purchasing the building Nov. 3, the Novaks have been busily preparing for the grand opening of Kingfisher Steakhouse and Lounge at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10.

It will be the first time the Kingfisher has opened its doors to patrons since last October, when the Sprowls decided to call it quits after nearly 25 years of serving Italian-American cuisine.

Kingfisher’s Inn was built in 1951 by George King, who adapted his last name to identify the restaurant.

The Sprowls and now the Novaks opted to keep the restaurant’s well-known name, although the Novaks’ new ending to it will reflect the restaurant’s new focus.

A new lounge area in the southwest corner of the restaurant will offer seating for 25 to 30 patrons and a full-service bar, taking advantage of the county’s liquor-by-the-drink statute passed in April.

But Novak emphasized that even though alcohol will be served, the lounge will maintain a casually classy dining atmosphere.

“As (Jim) likes to say, it’s not a bar,” she said. “People will be able to go in there, sit down and have a drink with their meal.”

Their removal of the waitress station puts back the seating lost by putting in the bar, Novak said, keeping their capacity at about 120 individuals.

And a streamlined, updated kitchen features some needed new equipment, Novak said.

“We totally went through and revamped the kitchen,” she said.

The Novaks have efforted to keep most of their renovations under wraps, a difficult task with so many well-wishers stopping by to see the progress, Novak said.

“The only major change is the lounge-I don’t want everybody to see it before we open,” she said with a smile.

“It’s going to be a surprise.”

While legally being able to serve liquor by the drink was a major factor in Novak’s decision to open her own restaurant, it was her long-running love of the business that finally led her to jump in with both feet, she said.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business probably close to 20 years,” she said. “And it’s always been a dream of mine to own a restaurant.”

Novak worked for 10 years at the Rockin’ V Steakhouse in Herington and has maintained an evening job as bartender in Herington while working day jobs at Parkside Homes in Hillsboro and most recently at Tampa State Bank in Tampa, where her family moved three years ago from Herington.

“I’ve pretty much maintained a full-time job during the day-but I’ve always kept that on the side because it’s something that I really enjoy doing,” Novak added.

“I need people, and I need the day-to-day hustle bustle.”

There’s been plenty of hustle and bustle lately as the Novaks have readied the Kingfisher for diners, who will find more has changed in the restaurant than its layout and name.

It’s no surprise that grilled steaks will be the steakhouse’s specialty, and that’s about all the new restaurant will have in common with its Italian-American predecessor.

“Other than the steaks, it’ll be a totally different menu,” Novak said.

“We’ll have a few pasta dishes on the menu, but no pizza-we have enough pizza in Marion,” she added with a laugh.

From K.C. strip to ribeye to top sirloin, steaks and other entrees will be served with a choice of potatoes and salad.

Other entrees will include pork chops, chicken, quail, catfish, butterfly shrimp and salmon.

Hamburgers and sandwiches will dominate the lunch menu, including a Warrior burger in honor of Marion High School around the corner.

Various specials will be offered on different days throughout the week, but these will likely change from week to week, Novak said. Soups will be served in season.

Recipes were gleaned from Novak’s days at the Rockin’ V as well as from her mother-in-law, including one for a cherry-filled chocolate cake that is “just to die for,” she said.

The venture is a family affair in other aspects as well-the restaurant’s 18 employees include both Novak and 15-year-old daughter Christa.

Hours will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

But special occasions may call for special hours- Novak said they’ll likely stay open until 2 a.m. for New Year’s Eve.

Other future plans include putting in a beer garden with a view of the lake, Novak said.

“We’ll be starting on that in the spring,” she said.

Such renovations are possible only through the support of area investors, secured through Charles Kannady of Kannady and Associates Real Estate, Novak said.

“We knew we wanted to buy Kingfisher and what we wanted to turn it into,” she said.

“Charles said that he had some people that might be interested in investing and helping us get started,” she added. “He pretty much got the ball rolling, and then he did everything.”

Investors are Don and Pam Bredemeier, Marlin and Debbie Buchholz, Mitch, Greg and Linda Carlson, Charlie Dannenfelser, Linda Kannady, Kent and Alice Richmond, Bruce and Belinda Skiles, Lois and Jerry Smith, Brad and Jeanne Wildin and Ty Zeiner.

Following a meeting to let the investors know what the Novaks had planned for the restaurant, Novak said the investors have continued to show interest in helping the Novaks reach their goals.

“We’ve had a couple that have come out and put some elbow grease down and done some things for us,” she said.

Kannady said he was glad to help the Novaks get help to fulfill their vision for the restaurant.

“They wanted to do some improvements to the property and needed additional sums of money, so what I did was got several people who really stepped up to the plate and put in a little money to try to help,” Kannady said.

“It wasn’t because of the amount of interest they’d be getting on their money, but more or less for the improvement of the area.”

Kannady said he was amazed at the number of area residents who were willing to support the Novaks with more than just good wishes.

“I think that these people decided that they wanted to see something happen,” he said.

“And they were willing, instead of just talking about it, to put their money in it.”

The Novaks will reward these investors as well as their family and friends with a sneak peek party at the restaurant Friday, Dec. 9, Novak said.

Patrons may reserve tables for other such parties-“they can have luncheons, private parties, meetings any day of the week they want,” Novak said-although she’ll warn you she’s pretty much booked up evenings for December.

It’s just further evidence that word has spread quickly of their plans to reopen, Novak said, and she couldn’t be happier.

“We’ve actually had a couple people from Wichita call wanting to know when we would be open,” she said.

“It’s just been calls, calls, calls,” she added. “Everybody is thrilled to see it back.”

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