Tuesday, November 17, 2020
53.6 F
The Villages

Has the atmosphere in Spanish Springs changed over the years?

Many Villagers might not know it but the atmosphere in Spanish Springs Town Square was much different in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

That’s because two Villages-owned restaurants and a small-town bakery set the tone for the original town square that boasted large crowds enjoying breakfast, lunch and dinner at the popular establishments just about every night of the week.

This corner once housed two restaurants – Café Ole and Augustine’s – that set a fun and laid-back atmosphere in Spanish Springs Town Square.

The north corner of Main Street, across from the Gazebo, used to be home to a quaint eatery named Café Ole. The restaurant served meals all day long but to many Villagers it was simply known as the best breakfast spot in town. It featured a full array of breakfast favorites, including a very popular Spanish omelet and a good old Southern breakfast of sausage, eggs, toast and grits. Customers had the option to sit outside in the cool morning air and enjoy the first signs of hustle and bustle as walkers, skaters and cyclists commonly made their way through the area on their morning exercise routines.

Café Ole also offered a true hometown feel, much like the small-town restaurants “back home” where many residents enjoyed meals with their friends and neighbors. Just like at those restaurants, close friendships were formed at the cozy Café Ole on a regular basis.

The location in Spanish Springs Town Square that houses Demshar’s restaurant originally was called Augustine’s and later was home to a failed Italian restaurant named Luigino’s.

Across the street sat another Villages favorite – Augustine’s. That restaurant offered delicious Italian food, a tasty salad and breadsticks that would melt in one’s mouth. And for those who weren’t particularly hungry, a very reasonably priced meal was available featuring just the salad or soup with breadsticks.

If this whole concept sounds somewhat familiar, there’s a good reason – Augustine’s was a rip-off of Olive Garden. The menu was almost identical and not surprisingly, the signature salad and breadsticks tasted exactly the same.

In fact, it was such a blatant copy of the popular chain restaurant that Villagers frequently would joke about it. But those same residents would flock to the eatery day and night to enjoy the tasty Italian dishes that weren’t available anywhere else in The Villages at that time.

Both Margarita Republic Caribbean Grill and Bar, left, and Demshar’s have been in the news with law enforcement-related items in recent times.

There was, however, one factor that truly set Augustine’s apart from Olive Garden. The restaurant was much bigger in those days and it contained a brewery – Spanish Springs Brewing Co. – that was known throughout the state of Florida for producing award-winning beers. That brewery, which occupied the space all the way back to Tervis Tumbler, contained huge copper vats that were visible to customers through huge windows looking onto Main Street.

The third eatery that played a huge role in shaping the friendly culture back then was Bichara Bakery, which occupied the space where Dunkin’ Donuts now sits. Like Café Ole and Augustine’s, Bichara Bakery offered that true hometown feel with a small, well-known staff – one cashier greeted every customer with the exact same words, “How are you?” – that offered a variety of tasty donuts and hot coffee on a daily basis. The donuts didn’t taste like those from a chain store or grocery, which obviously was a good thing based on the long lines that formed there each morning.

Margarita Republic Caribbean Grill and Bar is owned by Sandy and Ron Averbeck, who previously spent several years managing Gator Joe’s in Ocklawaha.

One of the best features of the small donut shop was that it opened into the back seating area of Augustine’s. That offered plenty of room for customers to sit together and enjoy breakfast. And it worked perfectly fine because Augustine’s didn’t open until later in the day.

Unfortunately, like many things in The Villages, the good old days of those three establishments were numbered. The Villages Developer was in the business of building homes, not running restaurants. So when the opportunity came along for the Developer to make some cash and turn those establishments over to private owners, the small-town charm that existed in Spanish Springs quickly became a casualty.

Demshar’s, which bills itself as a casual and fine dining restaurant, is owned by Villagers Dennis and Edie Demshar, who sold the Lady Lake Honey Baked Hams franchise to open the eatery.

Café Ole was replaced by Margarita Republic Caribbean Grill and Bar. The restaurant/bar is owned by Sandy and Ron Averbeck, who previously had spent years managing Gator Joe’s in Ocklawaha. They quickly eliminated breakfast, opting instead to open for the lunch crowd and then really cater to some Villagers and a much younger crowd that prefers to stay out until the wee hours of the morning.

What Villagers quickly found at Margarita Republic was that the hometown charm they loved had been swapped out for a full-blown bar atmosphere that brought its own brand of problems, from fights to rowdiness to intoxicated customers who made the mistake of trying to drive home.

From an employee who was arrested during a run to pick up her children to a cook who busted in a prostitution case to a Lady Lake man arrested on a disorderly conduct charge to a woman reporting bank card fraud after her wallet went missing to a counselor arrested on a DUI charge after leaving the restaurant, the climate of the down-home breakfast eatery where everyone smiled and offered handshakes and hugs was long gone.

The Dunkin’ Donuts location in Spanish Springs Town Square was once home to Bichara Bakery and then a Starbucks coffeehouse.

Augustine’s also disappeared, as did the highly popular brewery. The building has housed a variety of failed restaurants over the years, including one that attempted to remain with the theme of Italian food but went away fairly quickly.

Today, that space is home to Demshar’s, which bills itself as a casual and fine dining restaurant. It has been in Spanish Springs for two years and is owned by Villagers Dennis and Edie Demshar, who sold the Lady Lake Honey Baked Hams franchise to open the eatery.

Demshar’s also has had its share of law enforcement issues. In January 2018, a waiter pleaded no contest to a charge of fraud involving stealing money from the establishment. And earlier this month, a chef at the restaurant who was still wearing his Demshar’s coat had his license plate seized from his vehicle and was cited for driving on a suspended license.

The building that houses Demshar’s and Dunkin’ Donuts in Spanish Springs Town Square used to be home to Augustine’s and Bichara Bakery, and the two eateries shared a seating area.

Finally, Bichara Bakery also went by the wayside, removing yet another slice of hometown life Villagers had come to love in Spanish Springs. It was at first replaced by a Starbucks franchise. But that went away in the mid-2000s when the company closed hundreds of locations.

Dunkin’ Donuts grabbed that location and the chain donut shop is still operating there today. But the days of sharing space with the restaurant next door are long gone, as the doorway between the two – like the small-town charm Spanish Springs once offered – was eliminated years ago.

More Headlines

COVID-19 virus strikes Villages Charter School and Lady Lake elementary school

The potentially deadly COVID-19 virus has reared its head again at The Villages Charter School and Villages Elementary of Lady Lake.

COVID-19 pandemic prompts hiring by Sumter County Health Department

The Sumter County Health Department is hiring for support positions related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response. We've got online links where you can apply.

Photos

Seagull On The Lake Sumter Landing Boardwalk With Full Moon

Check out this seagull on the Lake Sumter Landing boardwalk with a full moon in the night sky. Thanks to Ron Clark for sharing!

Red-Shouldered Hawk On A Bird Bath In The Village Of Hillsborough

This red-shouldered hawk was resting on a bird bath in the Village of Hillsborough. Thanks to David Guerra for sharing!

White Peacock Butterfly At Fenney Nature Trail

This white peacock butterfly was spotted at Fenney Nature Trail. Thanks to Ron Clark for sharing!

Letters to the Editor

Villagers can’t help it when their children are arrested

In a Letter to the Editor, a Village of Charlotte resident argues that Villages-News.com should show some compassion to the Villagers whose adult children break the law and land behind bars.

Business

Groome Transportation resuming Shuttle Service between The Villages community and Orlando International Airport

Groome Transportation is resuming its airport shuttle service between The Villages and Orlando International Airport.

Crime

Villager jailed after confronting golfer at home overlooking Bonifay golf course

An 80-year-old Villager was arrested after confronting a golfer who pulled up stakes near his home on the Bonifay Championship Golf Course.

Opinions

CDC advises Americans to make safety a priority this Thanksgiving

The Centers for Disease Control has released guidelines aimed at helping all Americans celebrate a safe Thanksgiving. We've got the full details.

Top Stories

Villager jailed after confronting golfer at home overlooking Bonifay golf course

An 80-year-old Villager was arrested after confronting a golfer who pulled up stakes near his home on the Bonifay Championship Golf Course.

COVID-19 virus strikes Villages Charter School and Lady Lake elementary school

The potentially deadly COVID-19 virus has reared its head again at The Villages Charter School and Villages Elementary of Lady Lake.

COVID-19 pandemic prompts hiring by Sumter County Health Department

The Sumter County Health Department is hiring for support positions related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response. We've got online links where you can apply.

Letters to the Editor

Villagers can’t help it when their children are arrested

In a Letter to the Editor, a Village of Charlotte resident argues that Villages-News.com should show some compassion to the Villagers whose adult children break the law and land behind bars.

Visiting town square is a personal choice

A Village of Duval resident, in a Letter to the Editor, contends that Villagers should be free to make the choice to attend the town squares and enjoy the entertainment.

Villager disagrees with assessment of Trump’s mental capacity

A Village of Duval resident responds to a previous Letter to the Editor in which the author questioned the mental capacity of President Trump.

Crime

Villager jailed after confronting golfer at home overlooking Bonifay golf course

An 80-year-old Villager was arrested after confronting a golfer who pulled up stakes near his home on the Bonifay Championship Golf Course.

Parkwood man arrested on hit-and-run charge after fleeing crash which injured children

A Villages of Parkwood man was arrested on a hit-and-run charge after allegedly fleeing the scene of a crash in which children were injured.

Woman with license revoked due to DUI nabbed in The Villages with beer

A woman whose license has been revoked due to a drunk driving arrest was nabbed in The Villages with beer in her truck.