Cheap Eats

The Coffee Carousel: Main Street's Most Affordable Eatery

The Coffee Carousel has barely changed since the restaurant opened in the 1960s.

By Cooper Levey-Baker May 31, 2016 Published in the June 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Amy Nysewander and Julie Motycka.

Image: Evan Sigmund

2 p.m. At the Coffee Carousel, it’s quitting time.

Julie Motycka and Amy Nysewander, the sisters who, together with their mother, Florence Motycka, own the Main Street diner, sweep up, scraping pollen, leaves and scraps of paper into a dustpan. Other members of the tight-knit staff wash dishes and cart trash to the dumpster out back—the final steps of a routine that begins at 3:30 a.m. every day, when employees arrive to prepare the restaurant to open at 6.

They can’t be late. Most mornings, by 6, a line of longtime regulars has already formed. They’re starving for breakfast and for social time with fellow old-timers and servers who remember your name after your first visit.

When restaurants raise their prices, customers often cry foul. Not so here, where Motycka, 58, and Nysewander, 55, decided to increase prices last year for the first time in almost a decade. Rather than throwing a fit, regulars applauded the move, saying the hike was long overdue. Even after items went up 25 cents, 50 cents, $1, Coffee Carousel’s prices are still the lowest you’ll find on Main Street, bar none. Breakfast starts at $2.15, burgers at $3.85. “We just squeak by,” says Nysewander, “and we have for 29 years.”

The prices aren’t the only things that have barely changed since the restaurant opened in the 1960s. Laminate two-tops still have wavy, curved edges; five-tops are shaped like stars. The stools that line the diner’s long counter sit just north of the ground, an uncomfortable reminder that humans have gotten taller since the Carousel opened its doors.

Motycka and Nysewander’s parents purchased the Carousel back in 1987. Their father, Frank Motycka, who died in 2004, and Florence, now 83 and retired, were both fixtures at the restaurant for decades. Other siblings, nieces and nephews have also passed through for stints in the kitchen or out on the floor.

The regulars almost count as family, too. A handful have been coming every weekday since the Motyckas bought the restaurant almost three decades ago. “They basically saw us grow up, and as our kids grew up, they watched,” Nysewander says.

Sweeping up, Motycka and Nysewander wonder why some faces didn’t turn up today. Hopefully they’re feeling all right. A customer recently called to inform the staff he wouldn’t be coming in for a few days and so wouldn’t need his regular seat. Stories like that go a long way toward explaining how the Carousel has thrived for decades, despite charging so little. 1644 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 365-2826

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