Share this article

print logo

Buffalo guy gave up corporate job to serve drinks in paradise

It's a vision nearly every vacationer has at one point – let's give it all up and move permanently. But if you told Buffalo native Don Manaher that he would be running a bar in Key West, Fla., back in his college days, he never would have believed you.

Manaher had left Buffalo for a successful corporate career in Indiana. When he received a lump sum payment from his employer, he gave up the 9-to-5 life and headed down to Key West and bought a bar, now called Dons' Place at 1000 Truman Ave., Key West.

It features a liquor store and an indoor bar, along with an outdoor tiki bar and plenty of TVs and games like corn hole. While vacationing, I had the chance to sit down with Manaher and hear how he turned in his snow shovel for life in Key West, the southernmost point of the continental U.S., and never plans to look back.

Question: How did you end up as a bar owner?

Manaher: I ran a newspaper company for 24 years. The company was sold and they gave me a bunch of money. My partner, an attorney, and I didn't even have any bar business experience.

Dons' Place bartender Maria Lopez, right, engages with a customer. (Elizabeth Carey/Special to The News)

Q: How did you choose Key West?

A: I was at a newspaper convention in Miami. I came down for a couple of days and fell in love with the place.

Q: How does your life now compare with the corporate world?

A: There's no comparison. It's the greatest thing – being my own boss. And Key West is a party town so every night is a Friday night. We're open from 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. every day. I'd stay open 24 hours if they let me.

Q: You and your wife, Stephanie, have three daughters. How did your family adapt to the move?

A: When I moved down, my oldest child was a freshman in college, I had one a senior in high school and one in seventh grade. So two of them went to Key West high school. It was 1998 when we moved down here.

Who doesn't love an outdoor game of ping pong? Dons' Place features games to keep customers in Key West entertained. (Elizabeth Carey/Special to The News)

Q: Do you attract a lot of Buffalonians on vacation in Key West?

A: We hear it – it will be a friend of a friend told me to stop or I know someone from Buffalo and had to stop. During the Bills season, we'll get about 40 people in here and we'll cook out and root on the Bills. We don't serve food normally except when it's free on Sundays for football. I have someone from Batavia who works for me. We do sell Labatt.

Q: You don't serve food, but you do have a liquor store as part of the business. Do a lot of people stop into the store?

A: You'll see a lot of locals. It's a neighborhood place. Most people down here don't have cars so they ride bikes and scooters. This is a convenience for them. We earned the trust of locals when we sold them a bottle (of liquor) on good faith during a hurricane. All but one of them came back and paid me.

The drive-thru liquor store, a special quirk of Dons' Place. (Elizabeth Carey/Special to The News)

Q: Do you attract tourists, too?

A: About 20 percent of my business is tourists and the rest are locals – bartenders, waitresses, construction workers – they come here to escape the tourists after work. The tourists find us after Duval Street. It's a shot and a beer type of place. It's not fancy. There are no tablecloths. It's a gin mill and everyone knows your name. It's very enjoyable and fun, nothing elaborate. We have a concrete floor. We're only closed 21 hours a week.

Q: The locals come to you. Was it difficult to fit in in Key West?

A: I'm a "freshwater conch" – that's what they call you when you're not raised here. I feel like I'm part of the town after 19 years. It's very laid-back. Eighty to 90 percent of the people here aren't from here. It's very welcoming, and it's a community you take to quickly.

Dons' Place is decorated with Buffalo-themed memorabilia. (Elizabeth Carey/Special to The News)

Q: Did you ever think you'd be living in Key West years ago?

A: Absolutely not. I never dreamed it, but I did tell my wife in college, if you marry me – this was back in 1975 – we'll move to Florida and I'll be a bartender. Now I have professional bartenders. I wasn't very good at it (tending bar).

Q: Would you ever trade it all in?

A: I ride my scooter to work every day. And I don't shovel snow. If it snows here, I'll move farther down south.

*More Carey interviews:
- Craving comfort food? Chef's delivers
- 67th Valentine's Day warms the heart of Russ Salvatore
- Amherst Pizza & Ale House caters to football fans

There are no comments - be the first to comment