Ukulele Brand’s is known for being a lively place.
The Land O’ Lakes waterside dining staple that sits on East Lake Ellis has always been known for its live music, hearty food, drinks and late-night crowds. The restaurant, also known for its hometown feel, has been serving patrons for 25 years.
But it’s never been known for a drive-thru.
Perhaps that’s why its regulars were so shocked to see an SUV and food truck plow through its exterior wall on Jan. 25, creating a large hole and damaging the kitchen. The destruction forced the restaurant, at 4805 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., to temporarily shut down.
Luckily, no one — diners and employees — were seriously injured.
“How no one died — I don’t know. No clue,” said Jennifer Fischer, Ukulele’s manager.
Even now, more than a month later, she’s flabbergasted by the sequence of events.
“Our dishwasher flew 10 to 15 feet into my kitchen area, where there were staff members — it was horrible. When I watched the video, my heart was in my throat, and I don’t know how it wasn’t worse.”
When the accident occurred, around 8 p.m., the restaurant was filled with patrons in the dining room and staff working in the kitchen.
The crash forced the restaurant to close down, while repairs are made. It also temporarily put the restaurant’s 42 employees out of work.
They weren’t let go, but many have been unable to find temporary work. They couldn’t quit because that would deny them from receiving unemployment.
But the community has stepped up.
Supporters, including the Rotary of Land O’ Lakes; Lucas, Macyszyn, & Dyer Injury Lawyers; and other local businesses, organized a ‘support-the-staff’ fundraiser, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting them, to help ease their financial strain.
The fundraiser was held Feb. 18, in the Ukulele parking lot, with staff serving food and drinks that had been donated. They also held drawings and took donations.
The event raised more than $20,000.
“It’s amazing that (the locals and regulars) are looking out for us, that Ukulele means something to them,” said MacKenzie Dadroga, a bartender and server with the restaurant since 2015. “We’re still here and people are still supporting us, because it’s not about the place — it’s about the people. They care about us.”
Suzanne Beauchaine, who handles marketing for Lucas, Macyszyn, & Dyer Injury Lawyers and is involved with the Rotary Club, said holding the event was a no-brainer.
She said donations poured in, even from people who didn’t attend the event.
As of Feb. 18, a GoFundMe had raised more than $1,000, and Florida Penguin Productions, which was holding the annual Pasco County Blues Festival down the road the same day, came by and donated $500, Beauchaine said.
“This place is Land O’ Lakes,” Beauchaine said. “It’s a part of this community, has been for 25 years, and the love and support for it really shows by the turnout.”
“It’s been amazing,” Fischer added. “I wasn’t expecting this kind of response so early, but that it turned out to be so busy, it’s amazing — this community is amazing.
“And I’ve heard quite a bit that (locals) are missing us!”
The restaurant’s local support was evident, as hundreds attended the fundraiser, with some hanging out all day to enjoy the food, drink and music.
Some even had trouble finding a place to park.
“We were worried (when the accident happened) because our friends work here, like Lauren (Wilson), who is a bartender here,” Land O’ Lakes resident Patty Kremzer said. “Once we heard about the event, we were like, yeah, we’re going (laughs). We moved here six years ago, and Ukulele Brand’s was the first place we went to eat. We were starving, so we came on our first night. As soon as the moving truck pulled away, we were headed here.”
Her husband, Marco Kremser added: “We were shocked (by the accident). We’ve been coming here a very long time because we love the local feel to it. But these (employees), they depend on this place being busy, but they can’t get another job and they’re not really fired — it’s the least we could do.”
Fischer estimates that reopening will be within the next four weeks.
“Trust me,” she added, “we’re as anxious as everyone else to be back open.”
Where: 4805 Land O’ Lakes Blvd.
Details: The popular waterside restaurant has been temporarily closed since Jan. 25, after an SUV plowed through an exterior wall and into the kitchen. It plans to reopen in coming weeks, so check its social media channels and website for updates. Meanwhile, if you’d like to help, a GoFundMe has been established to raise money for the employees awaiting the reopening.
To donate to the cause, visit tinyurl.com/yvy24p4x.
For updates on the reopening, visit Facebook.com/UkuleleBrands.com or UkuleleBrands.com.
Published March 01, 2023