The closing of a small business amid a stubborn recession is usually neither newsworthy nor cause for celebration.
But Nellie's Café in Longwood – the life-long dream of Joyce and Jim Miller – was unlike most businesses from the outset, its owners throwing birthday parties for regulars and cooking up daily specials to cater to their patrons' whims.
On Sunday, their final day in business, the Deltona couple held a "grand closing" brunch where the food was free and patrons were encouraged instead to donate to Kids House of Seminole, a local charity.
"It was incredible," said Joyce Miller, the 48-year-old proprietor, who opened the café in 2007 with her husband's support. "We had to restock [food] twice to feed everybody. I'd guess we had 300 people in here."
The first arrived at 7:30 a.m. – an hour and a half before Nellie's was scheduled to open. "I'm sorry there's no food ready yet," Joyce told the man. "But I could make you some toast while you wait."
Instead, he asked for a glass of water and, when she brought it, he handed her a $100 donation. "I just wanted to make sure you were the real deal," he said. Then he left.
A couple of regular patrons kicked in $100 apiece too. Another woman brought the only donation she could offer – a bucket of pennies. Even on Monday, a bank teller stopped Joyce to give her $10 for the charity.
In all, the day brought in $1,716 for Kids House, which helps abused and neglected children. It also sparked an idea.
"Jim had such a good time doing this he said maybe we could make it into an annual charity event," Joyce said. "If we can work out the logistics, I think it'll happen."
She says this even though she and Jim worked a 12-hour day Sunday and spent nearly $500 of their own money to make the event happen. "It was so worth it," she said. "It made what would have been a sad day into a much happier one."
Kate Santich can be reached at 407-420-5503 or firstname.lastname@example.org.