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Island Restaurateurs Step Up During Pandemic: Community is a Priority for Family-Run Local Eatery

Nov 23, 2020 05:00PM ● By ELKE PODLASEK
Island Restaurateurs Step Up During Pandemic: Community is a Priority for Family-Run Local Eatery [7 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

Sanibel Island is a treasured destination for visitors and locals alike, long known for its beautiful beaches and idyllic setting. For me and my husband, Brian, it’s also our point of pride—the place where we have established our roots, grown our family and built our restaurant, The Island Cow

Since moving to Sanibel Island 28 years ago, this community has been the focal point of our lives. When we were ready to dive into a new restaurant opportunity, we wanted to create a place with a laid-back island atmosphere—or, as we like to call it, at-moo-sphere—where people can have fun with their family while enjoying great American-style food. 

Nearly 20 years later, our family-run operation has served up meals for more than 6 million people and offers more than 300 menu items, served up with scrumptious muffins, as well as specialty and Starbucks coffees, desserts and full-liquor tropical cocktails. You’re on island time from the minute you step inside or onto the patio, complete with cold drinks, outdoor games and live entertainment.

The many challenges presented by the pandemic have demonstrated the importance of a community that is strongly rooted in raising each other up in times of struggle. When we first heard about COVID-19 in Southwest Florida, we began sewing protective face masks, along with our two daughters, for our close friends who work at Lee Health. 

In line with our family’s passion for giving back through Kids’ Care Disaster Relief, a nonprofit founded by our daughter, Kristina, we thought it was important for our family to proactively and productively help others at a time when we might be feeling helpless. Sanibel businesses began to close as the situation progressed, and although our restaurant had to temporarily close its doors, we remained faithful and busy. While observing the stay-at-home recommendations, we had materials shipped to our house and quickly produced masks to help fulfill the critical need for first responders. 

This labor of love was met with great response, and as the need for masks continued, we wanted to do everything we could to support our health care workers and first responders through these supplies. To help fund this initiative and bring the masks community-wide, we soon made cow-print masks available to the public and businesses. Purchases and pay-it-forward donations also contributed to our efforts to fund additional materials for first responder masks. 

To date, we have sewn approximately 6,000 masks for the community and donations to the staff at Lee Health, local fire and police departments and other first responders across Southwest Florida and beyond. And while we have since reopened our doors at The Island Cow, during our free time, we are continuing to sew face masks for the community. 

The island community and Southwest Florida at large have been affected greatly by the pandemic. Yet we have found strength and hope for the future as our neighbors continue to stand tall together. 

Sanibel resident Elke Podlasek co-owns The Island Cow restaurant, which she founded with her husband, Brian. For more info, visit or call 239-472-0606.