By Mary Thurwachter
In its 16 years on Lantana’s beach, the Dune Deck Café has earned a reputation as a breakfast, lunch and brunch spot with good food and marketable ocean views. If owner John Caruso has his druthers, the swimsuit-friendly restaurant and tiki bar will remain for many years.
But the Dune Deck’s future at the beach is not a done deal. The town is considering issuing formal requests for proposals for the beach concession lease in the next two years.
Caruso’s lease is good through December 2017, and he has asked the Town Council to extend it for five more years with the continuation of the yearly payment schedule negotiated with a previous Town Council.
Mayor Dave Stewart, at the council’s Sept. 9 meeting, said putting the beach concession out for bids was the right thing to do. The current lease, Stewart said, gives the Dune Deck space for about $6 a square foot, far less than the going price of about $30. The town provides the café with insurance, 30 parking decals and pays for trash collection, water and wastewater. The café is responsible for janitorial services for the beach restrooms.
“You can’t even lease a warehouse for $20 a square foot,” Stewart said.
Caruso said comparisons to other beachfront eateries aren’t fair. “Everything isn’t black and white in numbers,” he said. Thousands more people go to Lake Worth Beach, he said, and the Dune Deck is not under air.
“I have to pay a lot in advertising to bring people in,” Caruso said. ”Lantana doesn’t even have a beach half the time and I’ve got a flooded parking lot.”
He also has to deal with the bridge being closed (until the end of this year) and parking meters that often don’t work.
But all of those issues will be taken care of before his lease expires. The town is putting in new parking kiosks and working on the parking lot flooding problem.
The current lease, negotiated with a previous Town Council, has Caruso paying $2,229 monthly (plus sales tax) this year and a little more each year until 2017, when he would pay $2,509 monthly (plus sales tax) for his 12-month lease.
“We took a rat-infested building that was an embarrassment and created something to be proud of,” Caruso said. “I invested $80,000 of my own money (to get started),” he said. “All those improvements over the years, I paid for. I always put back into the restaurant. Are we successful? Yes. Is it a gold mine? No. We are subject to the weather. We are very familiar with adversity.”
In a letter to Town Manager Deborah Manzo, Caruso said he plans to add restrooms (currently customers only have access to town restrooms) and has purchased new chairs and tables to give the café a facelift.
“If you want to increase certain things, absolutely,” Caruso said. “As long as we work together.”
Stewart said he had to look out for all 12,000 residents of the town. “It is time for us to put this out for proposals,” Stewart said. “That takes the emotion out of it.”
Caruso and Manzo plan to meet to discuss possible price adjustments.
By Mary Thurwachter