By Charlie Reed
Whether you’re an Osceola County native or a Central Florida transplant, you’ve probably enjoyed a meal at Fat Boy’s Bar-B-Q in Kissimmee – or it’s at least been recommended to you a time or two. And if you’re a regular there, or at nearby Pizza City, then you probably know Chris Carter.
She bought Fat Boy’s earlier this year from longtime co-owners (and cousins) Dennis Mayer and Jim Scheirer. Jim helped his father open the restaurant in 1971. After nearly 50 years in business, it’s one of Osceola County’s most well-known eateries and is “here to stay,” Chris said.
A Kissimmee native, she worked as a server and dining room manager at Fat Boy’s for 18 years. In 1995 she moved down Highway 192 to Pizza City, another family-owned, local favorite.
After working there for nearly 17 years, she jumped at the chance to buy it in 2012.
“I just knew it was right,” Chris said. After working in restaurants all her life, she was finally ready to own one.
“I knew the business side, how to order and basically how do everything, so I didn’t even hesitate,” she said. “It was the same thing with Fat Boy’s.”
And so after an initial buyer backed out, Chris made her move and soon bought her second restaurant.
The community — especially the folks who “need” a regular Pizza City and/or Fat Boy’s fix — was ecstatic when she took over. Still, she hasn’t been immune from the naysayers who thought she couldn’t do it.
“I’m just like, watch and see,” she said. “Sometimes people can be condescending because I’m a woman. They don’t think I can do the job. But I just keep working and don’t let negativity bring me down.”
Years ago, Chris considered getting out of the business — a busy, often exhausting industry.
“I tried real estate and hated it,” she told Osceola Woman on a recent afternoon in between the lunch and dinner crowds at Fat Boy’s.
Despite the long hours, constant bustle and hot kitchens, she realized working in restaurants is what she loves doing.
“I just enjoy it. I love putting a smile on someone’s face. Getting to know the regulars and interacting with customers is my favorite part,” she said.
But she also knows how to do — and often does — every job in the house, from cooking and ordering to serving, greeting and ringing up checks. These days she spends more time at Fat Boy’s than Pizza City. She hasn’t changed much at either place and doesn’t plan to; just a few tweaks here and there, like adding homemade desserts to the menu, opening earlier for breakfast and experimenting with different house specials.
“I’m really hands-on, that’s just how I like to run things. I really trust and rely on my managers and staff, but I am part of the day-to-day operations at the restaurants.”
Since buying Fat Boy’s, Chris and her family have moved back to town after nearly 20 years in Clermont. Now that she owns and operates two of the county’s most popular restaurants, she thought it was time to return to her hometown.
“It’s awesome to come back. I just like Kissimmee. It’s grown a lot, but it’s still home.”
It’s also home again for Chris’s daughter Danielle Avera, who was 5 when she and her parents moved to Clermont. She bought a house in St. Cloud last year to help her mom run Pizza City. She knows that business inside and out after working there with her mom every Saturday when she was a kid. She’s now learning the ropes at Fat Boy’s and has taken over its busy catering schedule.
The 25-year-old quit a management position at Publix — where she’s worked since the age of 16 — to help her mom full-time after she bought Fat Boy’s. She still works at the grocery store a few days each month to maintain her health benefits. But leaving her job to work for her mom wasn’t a hard sell, she said.
“It was really a family decision. Me and my mom and my dad sat down and talked about it. I was my decision. I wanted to build a future us, for our whole family. Plus, my mom my would like to retire at some point,” Danielle said.
“Or at least not work seven days a week,” Chris chimed in with a smile.
The mother-daughter duo share the same work ethic, which basically is: Don’t ask anyone to do something you can’t do yourself.
“If something needs to be done, you just do it. I don’t know it all by any means, but I like to take the initiative. I’m taking it in a step-by-step process,” said Danielle, who’s learning how to negotiate prices with vendors and other such finer points of operating a restaurant.
“If there’s a lesson to be learned, I’ll probably learn it the hard way,” she said.
But what Danielle lacks in experience she makes up for with a corporate edge, thanks to her years working at Publix.
“She’s thinks corporate. I think small business. So we both help each other from that perspective,” Chris said. “If anything, Danielle is hard on too hard on herself.”
Having your only child as your right-hand-woman and business partner is something Chris never thought would happen, but she considers it a blessing.
“I didn’t want her to end up regretting anything by coming to work here,” said Chris.
But like her mom, Danielle knows delights in getting to know customers and is energized by the work even at its toughest.
Every Sunday morning, she, her boyfriend and her father meet for breakfast at Fat Boy’s. Chris stops to chat with the family and occasionally get to sit down and join them if it’s not too busy.
“Then again if they need any help, I can jump right in,” Danielle said.
Both women are working on strategies to grow Fat Boy’s dinner service, which dropped off when it looked like it was going to be sold and turned into a fast-food restaurant.
“But we’re doing really good over all. We’re here to stay,” Chris said. “I don’t want these two restaurants going anywhere.”