DADE CITY — Now that chef Steven M. Queen Jr. has taken the reins of the Kafe Kokopelli Restaurant in Dade City, he plans some changes.
But have no fear, he will keep the restaurant’s famous she-crab soup.
Queen, 28, recently purchased the popular restaurant from Gail and Glen Greenfelder, who established Kafe Kokopelli in 1995. The building was a 100-year-old former landmark structure originally built for selling Model T Fords before it became Kafe Kokopelli.
Known for its food and façade (the building is covered in vines), Queen said he intends to take the restaurant to even greater heights.
With a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University in Miami, Queen has had extensive experience in hotels and restaurants. He said he has always wanted to own a restaurant.
His father, Steven Sr., who lives in Lake Jovita, told him about the possible sale of the restaurant. Queen was working for Dolce Hotels and Resorts in Washington, D.C. at the time.
“It was a little bit of a tip-off,” Queen said. “Gail and Glenn Greenfelder put out their feelers in the area and my father actually turned me on to it. I contacted Gail, and I came down and I had dinner with her and we have been working on the deal for several months now.”
The Greenfelders allowed Queen to observe the operations of the restaurant three weeks prior to taking over to get used to the kitchen and to make the transition smoother.
Queen will not only manage the restaurant, but he will be the head chef. “I’m going to be in the kitchen a lot,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that it’s the best food that we possibly can make. I want to be the best in the area.”
As with any new owner, Queen will bring his stamp to the restaurant.
“I love the eclectic atmosphere, I love what they’ve done with the place, I love that it’s a local hot spot,” Queen said. “The Steve Queen stamp is going to be that we keep the eclectic environment. We want to keep the atmosphere that the regulars love and we want to take that and we want to give it a refined eclecticness.”
Some menu changes are planned. Queen is working on one now with a target date of one or two weeks. It will reflect his specialty — modern American.
“Modern American is kind of America’s way of saying we’re a melting pot, we can do whatever we want,” Queen said. “I can put soy sauce in it or I can make you an outstanding grilled cheese with some type of special cheese that I’m getting in from Vermont or we’re shipping in from France. We’re showcasing that America is a very strong culinary country. I want to make modern American food that is affordable and is going to look great on a plate.
“If I make you a prime rib I want you to say ‘That’s the best one that I ever had,’ and it’s really simple to do because all I need is a little bit of seasoning and to throw something in there that is exceptional, something that is unexpected,” he said. “That’s the way that I like to cook, and that’s the way I really view modern American, bringing stuff that is so simple and brings back memories of people from their childhood, but then putting that exceptional surprise in that’s going to make them say, ‘Wow! I need to have that again.’ ”
“We are going to change the decor a little bit,” Queen added. “It’s going to be in very specialized areas.”
One area Queen plans to change is the “Chandelier Room,” noted for the graffiti that covers the walls. He wants to make it a “Chef’s Room” or executive dining room by painting over the graffiti and replacing it with a big Kokopelli dancer.
Queen wants to make the restaurant “greener” by no longer using any plastic and using all glass.
“Were re-silverwaring the place,” he said. “I think that also refines the dining experience. I want them to be able to pick up a nice weighted fork and have glassware and have a water glass.
“I don’t want them to touch anything plastic while they’re here, until it’s their credit card when its time to pay,” he said.
“To keep everybody happy, the she-crab soup will stay in the menu,” he said, laughing. “That is the number one question I’ve gotten about the place.”