Foxy’s Café family still cooking after decades in Treasure Island

From left are Sher Ozzie, an operator of Foxy’s Café, and servers Brittany and Nicole Zell and Mira Flor. Foxy’s, at 160 107th Ave., has been open since 1981.

TREASURE ISLAND — The family that introduced chicken wings to Treasure Island when they opened Foxy’s Café 38 years ago is proud to have their full-service restaurant become a must-visit destination for generations of locals and visitors.

Rita Orzechowski and her late husband, Ron, opened Foxy’s, at 160 107th Ave., west of the Treasure Island Causeway, with a late partner in 1981. Since then, their children Sher Ozzie and Gregg Orzechowski joined them to keep watchful eyes on the family business.

Orzechowski recalled she and Ron relocated to Treasure Island in 1981 to get away from Buffalo, New York’s wintry weather, especially after the blizzard of 1977, which left the northwestern part of the Empire State covered with a snowfall as high as 100 inches and icy drifts 40 feet high.

“We loved the weather in Florida and decided we were never going back,” she said.

Being from Buffalo, she said, her husband wanted to offer chicken wings, a dish that in 1981 was unheard of on Florida’s west coast.

“We had trouble getting suppliers who sold just chicken wings, because there were none. It was before Hooters opened, and people considered chicken wings as scrap only used to make soup,” she said.

Ozzie said her dad would cut his own wings, prepare them with his special recipe and bring them to area taverns for people to try, and they quickly caught on.

“It introduced customers to Foxy’s, because we were the only ones who made them,” she said.

The rest is chicken-wing history.

“Then customers saw our menu and starting coming in for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she added.

Ozzie and Orzechowski said in the 1980s and 1990s there were many more taverns, nightclubs and eateries on the island and there was more nightlife.

Foxy’s Café has always been a full-service family restaurant and at one time was open until 3 a.m., just to serve breakfast to bar patrons.

It’s now open every day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., with a full-service breakfast, lunch and dinner menu encompassing more than 100 items and beer and wine.

In serving the island’s residents and visitors for almost four decades, the owners note their patrons are now bringing grandchildren and great-grandchildren to Foxy’s.

Ozzie recalled that one couple came in with their 21-year-old daughter and reminisced about having their first date at Foxy’s. “That will make you feel older,” she said.

They said their secret is to hire friendly servers and instill in their staff that everyone is considered family. Some regular patrons become family and visit every day, sometimes two or three times, for breakfast and then lunch or dinner. Servers remember what people like to eat, their special requests and what they drink.

Snowbirds return each season as their yearly tradition.

“We recognize a lot of friends and welcome them back,” Ozzie said.

One couple now winters in Sarasota, but stops by each year on their way to Tampa International Airport for a meal and to say hello.

Ozzie said the quality of their food has remained fresh and consistent through the years. Foxy’s makes all its own sauces, soups, hamburgers, pizza dough, calzones, and most other food items from scratch to guarantee great quality.

“We try to keep our prices very reasonable; my husband would say, ‘People have to eat,’” Rita said.

Ozzie and Orzechowski said they have seen it all on Treasure Island: the no-name storm in 1993 that left boats on Gulf Boulevard and the hurricanes that have passed the Tampa Bay area.

During each hurricane, with windows and doors boarded, they kept operating as long as they could. If they had electricity, they opened soon after each storm to feed fire, police and city workers and island residents without power.

Orzechowski said they are contemplating applying for a full liquor license, since many patrons want a cocktail or drink with their meal. She added that Foxy’s will still remain a family-friendly café that everyone loves.