By Mary Thurwachter
The Dune Deck Café, a popular open-air restaurant at the public beach for nearly three decades, will see Lantana increase its rent by 38% over the next three years.
The Town Council, at its June 13 meeting, voted unanimously to extend the lease of the concessionaire for three years, but the rent will go up each year until it reaches $65,000 annually in 2025. The breakfast and lunch restaurant currently pays $47,132 plus sales tax annually.
The higher rate is more in line with what the rent should be, according to a market rent analysis report done by Anderson Carr, a local appraisal firm, on March 28. It will take three years to get to the $64,045 rent suggested in that report. The rent, before the inclusion of sales taxes, will rise to $53,000 in 2023, $59,000 in 2024, and $65,000 in the new contract’s final year.
Council members had discussed the lease during a visioning workshop on April 22 after Dune Deck owner John Caruso had inquired about renewing the lease, which expires at the end of the year.
Besides the rent increase, the new agreement calls for the cash-only restaurant to make it more convenient for customers to pay their checks by making “reasonable efforts to begin accepting credit and debit cards as a form of payment prior to Dec. 31, 2024.”
Town Manager Brian Raducci said he thought the agreement was reasonable. “We had a very good negotiation, a very good discussion with Mr. Caruso and his attorney.”
Mayor Pro Tem Lynn (Doc) Moorhouse said he would do anything he could to support the Dune Deck, which, like the Old Key Lime House, is a destination point in town.
“Let’s face it, they’ve been through multiple hurricanes, and they are an outdoor restaurant,” Moorhouse said. “It’s not like you got walls and AC around to protect you. They don’t work when it rains because nobody comes. I think they’ve done a fantastic job.”
Council member Kem Mason agreed. “It’s a landmark location. They built it up. They made the name. They’re bringing people to our town so I’m behind them 100% and if they leave, we don’t know what we might get in there. For me, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
Mayor Robert Hagerty said he understood what Mason and Moorhouse were saying but also understood the reason for the conversation.
“It doesn’t mean nobody wants you around,” he said, referring to Caruso. “It’s not that at all. Everybody enjoys your restaurant, as a matter of fact. It’s just that we have to look into the future and not everybody knows what that entails. I don’t want to get rid of it. If anything, I want to improve that location if it’s possible.”
The Dune Deck has had a home at the public beach for 26 years. During a lease negotiation with the Town Council in 2012, Caruso said he had taken “a rat-infested building that was an embarrassment and created something to be proud of.”
He invested $80,000 of his own money to get the restaurant started and made many improvements over the years, including adding restrooms, new chairs and tables, and an outdoor bar. Customers previously used the beach’s public restrooms.
There were two public comments related to the new rent increase. One was from Pastor Ken Baker of First Baptist Church of Lantana, who said the Dune Deck was a staple in the community. He said the town should focus on bringing in new businesses, meaning “you don’t hurt the businesses that are already here by trying to jack up the price.”
John Raymer, who made an unsuccessful run for a council seat this year, said the rent was too low compared to what other business were paying and the town should charge more.
“You’re doing a disservice to the town of Lantana because that could be additional revenue that could help the town fix the beach and the roads and multiple other things, like hire lifeguards,” Raymer said of a rent increase.
In other action, the council made some changes to its rules and procedures as discussed at its visioning session in April. The changes allow the town manager to format the order of the agenda and to adopt a new section allowing for a consent agenda for non-controversial matters that do not require an individual discussion. Ú