Sound prestigious? Tanya and Allan Coffin thought so.
“We used to visit Orlando for holiday and asked about the area,” says Tanya Coffin. “While dining, a server told us about Lake Mary and described it as heaven on earth. After a few visits, we knew this was the place for us.” The couple were impressed by the town’s cleanliness and inviting people. And then, they found the ideal business location on Country Club Road.
Versini’s Italian Ice was opened in 2010 by a Portuguese family who also found the neighborhood and real estate ideal. “Lake Mary has great people and my business has thrived,” says owner F. Versini, whose sons attended Lake Mary High School, chosen by Versini because it boasts one of Florida’s highest graduation rates. A place like Versini’s, serving gelati and ice cream topped with Ghirardelli chocolate sauce, was a great addition to the neighborhood.
Over the years, Lake Mary has emerged as the destination of choice for a global mosaic of ethnicities, working-class residents, entrepreneurs and native townsfolk. Together, they harmoniously mesh as a laid-back, family-oriented community that is the hallmark of Lake Mary. Impressive commentary for a legacy that began as secluded swampland infinitely surrounded by sabal palms and mammoth oaks swathed in Spanish moss.
According to archived legend, Lake Mary is the town that Frank Evans built, shaping it from an old-fashioned cliché into a prosperous civilization. Dusty dirt trails were paved into roads for transportation on Schwinn bicycles long before bikes with banana seats were cool. The paths were shared with the exhaust and raucous horn honks of Ford Model-T automobiles.
Homes were humble and the lone general store likely sold crisp pickles in barrels. A pharmacy, railroad station, one-room schoolhouse and civic government emerged along with cultural offerings that included an orchestra.
Gas was one gallon for a quarter, and a nickel bought a bumpy train ride. A single dime admitted Charlie Chaplin fans into cinemas for nine cents, and the spare penny was enough for a sack of salty popcorn.
Sound nostalgic? Sure, but that was so yesterday. Take a quantum leap into the 21st century.
One stretch of the boulevard is happily saturated with retail and marquee signs that beckon middle-class and affluent residents to shop and solicit services such as cosmetic dentistry and exclusive real estate.
Alcoves at outdoor plazas are complemented by eateries that boast free Wi-Fi and tempt insatiable appetites. Among the offerings are Keller’s smoked barbe-cue ribs and menus featuring grilled burgers topped with crumbled bleu cheese and loaded with sautéed onions and mushrooms.
Sound enticing? Indeed, and most locals would concur.
Lake Mary is both a neighborhood and an experience that invites you to start your day with an all-American breakfast at Appleton’s Café — a 30-year tradition where native New Yorker Tricia Rodriguez delivers quick service to some 500 patrons on Saturdays. Omelets are fluffed from cracked eggs and ingredients are chopped daily. African-American “Chef T” will slay your palate with her homemade buttermilk biscuits, and breakfast is served all day, but you’ll want to come for lunch before the chicken salad sells out.
“We love the friendly people, and the portions are worth the price,” says the regular customer Sam Bellamy, a first vice president for USB Financial Services who visits frequently with his wife Krista and their two daughters.
“The girls love the themed holiday decorations and, of course, the pancakes,” he says with a smile that concurs.
Travel the boulevard south and visit the Saturday Farmers Market surrounded by eclectic shops, children playing and groomed pets on leashes. Free Zumba is taught to a Latin beat, and shoppers pick up local honey and gourmet popcorn sold in rainbow flavors including tutti-frutti.
“I started selling family pasta and pickle recipes at the market a year ago following my husband’s stroke,” shares Shelly Mottram, a Sicilian whose Backyard Blends products include jars of various green salsas, including a candied jalapeño version. “We’ve met so many friendly people here and love this market atmosphere.”
From the Lake Mary Heathrow Festival of the Arts to Dexter’s Sunday jazz brunch, the overarching Lake Mary theme is that everyone is welcome, accepted and encouraged to stay.