The cafe is in their DNA

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From the Broken Egg to the Serving Spoon to the Oasis , Jim and Melissa Palermo keep feeding our dining desires

By Hannah Wallace

Some Siesta things don’t change.
In 1985, Jim and Melissa Palermo founded the Broken Egg, then a 16-seat family spot on Avenida Messina. They ran it for six years and at two locations until selling in 1991, but by then the Broken Egg had already become a beloved Sarasota institution. And the Palermos knew they were onto something special.
Thirty-eight years since breaking their first egg as Siesta Key restaurateurs, the Palermos’ breakfast-lunch legacy continues 3.5 miles east, just over the north bridge, at the Oasis Café. There, Melissa still cheerfully orchestrates the front of house, and Jim still gets up at 4 a.m. to mix pancake batter and bake muffins, biscuits and scones.
“Melissa and I both still work in the business,” said Jim one afternoon this August, in between his morning shift in the kitchen and a supply run to Detweiler’s. “For lack of a better word, we’re dinosaurs. I’m the person that meets the delivery truck in the morning, opens the gates for the garbage truck. I’m in the kitchen cooking. It’s very rare that you walk into a restaurant today and you’re introduced to the owners.”
Melissa grew up in the Siesta Key hospitality scene (her parents owned a popular resort which has since been razed for condos), and Jim, originally from Vermont, cut his teeth in seasonal kitchens up and down the East Coast.
But working dinner service often meant that Jim got home at midnight or later. The Broken Egg was the Palermos’ attempt at a work-life balance.
“When kids started coming along, we said, if we’re going to be in the hospitality business, we need to figure out how to have a business and a family. I’m not going to be an absentee dad,” said Jim.
Sonny Sears, a friend and real estate mogul who owned the Key’s Conrad Egan clothing store, suggested a location.
“And at the time, the Village really needed a breakfast-and-lunch spot,” said Jim. “So, we did.”

The Palermos with their children outside the original Broken Egg. (submitted photo)

Soon enough, patrons at the newly opened Broken Egg on Avenida Messina were passing around the Palermos’ 4-month-old daughter, Ashley, while her parents worked.
In three years, the family moved to a larger location on Avenida Madera. And three years after that, in 1991, they sold the Broken Egg to Mart Solu (who would eventually sell the restaurant to Bob Kirschner in 1997). But the Palermos weren’t out of the restaurant biz for long.
Within the year, while Jim was shopping at Morton’s Market, a man introduced himself and said he had a spot on Osprey Avenue, just north of Hillview Street, that was in need of a restaurant.
“He handed me the keys and said, ‘Go take a look,’” said Jim. “I never gave him the keys back.”
The Palermos turned that spot into the Serving Spoon, another welcoming breakfast joint. A few years later, they sold that restaurant, too, though the new owners of the Serving Spoon (still open in Southside Village) have preserved much of the Palermos’ legacy there.

Jim and Melissa Palermo at the Oasis with daughter Ashley (middle). (submitted photo)

In 2004, after nearly a decade of living and working in Vermont, Jim and Melissa returned to Sarasota and purchased the Oasis Café, then a lunch and dinner spot on the southwest corner of Osprey Avenue and Siesta Drive. A year later they converted the spot to breakfast and lunch and reverted to the early routine that they’d first established with the Broken Egg 20 years earlier.
“I can’t really say that getting up at 4 in the morning is a negative because I wake up anyway,” said Jim. “I like that hour of the day. I like the peace of being able to do what I do.”
Once again, their restaurant has attracted a loyal neighborhood following that this time has lasted 19 years.
What’s kept the Palermos successful through three Sarasota restaurants and nearly four decades? “Creative is a good word. A better word is, we are flexible,” said Jim. “I always compare it to a Mexican restaurant that has less than 10 ingredients and they make 40 dishes. We have a two-page menu — breakfast and lunch — and every ingredient is fresh. Every ingredient I control, I buy, I chop.”
And so, Jim and Melissa have continued into their 60s. Jim acknowledged that at some point they’d like to create an exit plan. This time, rather than selling outside the family, they might like to hand the Oasis down to their daughter Ashley. The same little girl who was passed around from diner to diner in the earliest days at the Broken Egg now helps manage the restaurant. The family appeal continues.
“We’re mom and pops. The buck stops with Melissa and myself,” said Jim. “We give [employees] a place to hang their hat, to be a part of a family, to be part of a small organization. To work with somebody that’s been doing this for 100 years.”

Hannah Wallace
Author: Hannah Wallace

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