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They don’t want to ‘grow up’

Lock ‘N Key expands but opts not to raise roof

E arly in August, a boisterous crowd of protesters gathered in front of Englewood Beach’s Lock ‘N Key Restaurant, chanting, “Hell no, we won’t go!” and waving “Lock ‘N Key Remodeling Unfair!” and “Forgive All Bar Tabs!” signs.

A spokesperson cried, “We are protesting the closing of our home away from home!”

It was a lighthearted demonstration because Lock regulars knew their favorite would reopen in three months — on Nov. 1, to be precise.

Over the years, countless Englewood beachgoers have trekked across North Beach Road in their flip-flops, drawn to the fun at Lock ‘N Key.

From humble beginnings as a 30-by-60-foot cinderblock building with a screened-in porch, its beachfront formula for success has flourished through four sets of owners, for more than 60 years.

In 1997, New Yorkers Sue and Rocket Atamanchuk bought The Lock. Starting in 2006, they gradually expanded its dining room, bar, inside patio, outdoor patio and restrooms.

They’d been planning their current growth spurt for more than a year and launched it during their slowest months, this year made even slower by red tide.

At first, they’d planned to “grow up” and were fully permitted for a second story overlooking the beach. Then their 2017 purchase of nearby Flounders, renamed SandBar Tiki & Grille, changed a few priorities.

They also ran headlong into the “50 percent rule,” a state-mandated regulation that bedevils all flood-zone renovations. It requires that annual structural improvements costing 50 percent or more of a building’s appraised value be brought up to current Florida Building Code, including FEMA elevation requirements.

Different owners might have simply bulldozed the Lock and rebuilt to code, which would have required stilts raising it above flood level. In fact, according to Rocket, razing the place would have been faster and cheaper than the job’s $1-million-plus price tag.

But given The Lock’s history, Old Florida charm and beachy personality, the Atamanchuks couldn’t bear to destroy it or even raise its roof.

“We really wanted to keep this downstairs area,” said Sue. “Once you ‘go up,’ everything gets fancier. We wanted to keep the activity down here for foot traffic from the beach.”

So the restaurant remodel is taking place on the ground.

To make the most of the expansion without exceeding 50 percent, they’ve had to work carefully, under the guidance of Elaine Miller of Englewood’s Suncoast Architect and project manager Kale Dailey from Englewood contractor Truex Preferred Construction, along with local Englewood firms Michael J. Looney Electric and D Martin Plumbing.

In front, umbrella- shaded outdoor dining will replace a row of roadside parking spaces, making the beach side even more festive and inviting. The inside bar will double in length, snaking through the inside patio and into what was an outdoor patio.

“The dining room will become a lot quieter,” said Sue. “We had a strong bar and a strong dining room, but together the volume could get pretty intense, especially on game days. There will be a wall in between, open in places, to see through.”

Designer Kurt Lucas of Sarasota’s JKL Design Group, who’s pulled off no less than a castle-like Sarasota house with a moat and drawbridge, was equal to every challenge.

Customers can still belly up to the bar in their shorts or celebrate a swank anniversary in the dining room.

“We’ll have the best of both worlds,” said Rocket.

Every detail will have been touched, from the streetside sign to the menu.

“We’re getting a new sign, and Charlie, our fish, will be on the door handles, too,” said Sue.

The Lock’s cartoon logo never changes, she explained, but Charlie’s position might. He’ll always be leaning on the bar, though, fishing in a martini glass, a soused sea turtle on his shoulder, a lock on the bar and a key around his neck.

During the downtime, kitchen staff is tearing apart and deep-cleaning the kitchen in anticipation of next year’s efficiency- conscious kitchen overhaul by Venice’s Fishman & Associates. They’re also working to give the lunch menu fresh new flair.

Others among Lock ‘N Key’s staff of 87 are temporarily working with 117 SandBar employees, and some are taking time off. But the Atamanchuks made it clear that, if anyone in their restaurant family needed help, they would have it.

“What we’ve got here is a home run,” concluded Sue. “We went a little overboard, so it will look very different.”

Refusing to reveal more, she teased, “You’ll just have to come see it yourself when it’s done.”

Lock ‘N Key manager Mike Atamanchuk with his parents, owners Sue and Rocket Atamanchuk, are onsite during Lock ‘N Key’s reconstruction. Former bar manager Eric Wickson and Jackie Lokay will join Mike as Lock ‘N Key managers.

SUN PHOTO BY SUE WADE

Project manager Kale Dailey, from Truex Preferred Construction, oversees framing for the double-length new bar at Lock ‘N Key.

PHOTO PROVIDED

Lock ‘N Key at Englewood Beach is under construction but due to reopen Nov. 1.

SUN PHOTO BY SUE WADE

Sun Correspondent

Sue

WADE

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