Jul 28, 2014

O’Shy’s Changes Owners, But Not Direction

New owners Karl and Kurt Hesser aim to continue traditions set by Jennifer Lantry, including First Friday and serving plenty of craft beers.

O’Shy’s Changes Owners, But Not Direction O’Shy’s Changes Owners, But Not Direction O’Shy’s Changes Owners, But Not Direction O’Shy’s Changes Owners, But Not Direction O’Shy’s Changes Owners, But Not Direction

Often when new owners take over a business, they immediately turn the place upside down, changing the décor, the menu and even the name, in order to make it their own. 

But Karl and Kurt Hesser, two brothers from Pennsylvania who have worked as executives for many years, are smart enough to realize you don’t mess with a good thing if you have one. 

So even though the Hessers took ownership of from founder Jennifer Lantry last week, the brothers don’t plan on altering the formula that made the business a success, and that includes keeping Lantry involved. 

“Jen’s not going anywhere. She’s not leaving,” Kurt Hesser said Friday afternoon as the trio sat inside O’Shy’s discussing the transition. “She is the heart and spirit of this place, and we’re not going to try and replace that.” 

Lantry opened O’Shy’s — named after her daughter, Shyan — in early 2011, and she not only infused life in the area, she helped give the West Bay district an identity by organizing events like the popular First Friday street festival. 

But family concerns, namely caring for her ailing grandmother and raising 4-year-old Shyan, forced her to rethink her priorities at this point in her life. 

“With my grandmother’s health and raising children, I had to make the decision to sell,” she said wistfully. “But I knew I wasn’t going to sell it to just anyone. I wanted to find the right owners who would care for the place as much as I did.” 

She says she found just that in the Hessers.

New Owners Came Along at the Right Time

Kurt was looking to reprioritize his life after he and his wife suffered health scares and last year and he learned his job as a financial advisor was being eliminated. 

He had visited the Bay area many times over the years and purchased a triplex in Treasure Island last spring, so he started looking for a new career in Florida and found the listing for O’Shy’s on a brokerage website. 

After researching the place online and reading a  Largo Patch article about Lantry, the two spoke on the phone for three hours and immediately knew they were an ideal match for each other. 

“When I got off the phone, I knew they were the perfect buyers,” Lantry recalled. “I had numerous offers, and I could’ve sold to anybody, but I didn’t want to. I wanted someone who I knew would take good care of it.” 

Kurt Hesser echoed Lantry’s thoughts. 

“I read the article about Jen and thought the place had a different feel, that it wasn’t your typical neighborhood bar and she wasn’t your typical owner,” he said. “The fact that Jen was willing to sacrifice everything she had built for the good of her family was special. It speaks to what kind of person she is.” 

Community Focus Was a Selling Point

Karl Hesser, who has extensive experience planning events as director of operations for opera houses in Sarasota and Miami, said one of the drawing points of O’Shy’s was its community involvement. 

“The events are very important because that’s part of the appeal of O’Shy’s," he said. "We want to continue that tradition and keep Jen involved, keep it in the family.” 

The Hessers say First Friday will continue after a being in limbo for the past few months; the brothers are considering planning its first-year anniversary to coincide with a grand opening in July. 

As for changes to the business? Kurt says there will be a few, such as adding food, foosball and traditional Irish music. But one thing definitely won’t change — the name. 

“Absolutely the name will stay the same," he said. "How do you explain to a 4-year-old you took her name off her mom’s business?”

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