Spanish Sugar mill
PLACE WITH A PAST — With the Old Spanish Sugar Mill in the background, water from the spring rushes over the spillway at DeLeon Springs State Park. PHOTO COURTESY AMY MUNIZZI

It seems every week we are treated to more self-congratulatory toot-tooting from Volusia County’s multilayered “economic development” apparatus, celebrating another “big win!”

This usually comes in the form of another warehouse — an umpteen-thousand-square-foot monstrosity built on a clear-cut swath of pine scrub near (insert overburdened surface road here) — another “logistics and distribution” operation offering our best and brightest Volusia County graduates the opportunity to schlep boxes from point A to point B for $15 an hour.

But what happens when we lose an important longtime local business? Who stands up, raises their hand, and takes responsibility for that?

The one I have in mind is the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant at DeLeon Springs State Park, considered by many to be the most amazing breakfast spot in America.

For more than six decades, the restaurant has been operated by longtime Volusia County residents doing business as Schwarze Enterprises Inc.

They didn’t “go under” like some unfortunate rent-burdened retailer at One Daytona. They were outbid on a state concession solicitation by a larger out-of-state national hospitality-management corporation.

The families of both Patty Schwarze and John Michaelos, who took over as managing partner of Schwarze Enterprises in 2018, have long been part of the fabric of West Volusia. In fact, the historic JG Michaelos Building on Woodland Boulevard in DeLand is named after John’s grandfather.

And, cooking your own whole-wheat pancakes on an open griddle at your table in the cozy little eatery at DeLeon Springs State Park has been a family tradition in Volusia County since I was a small child.

Generations of visitors to the park have gathered around the beautiful clear spring, toured the museum, and walked the grounds while they waited — often for hours — for a table in the 100-year-old wooden building.

But, recently, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection accepted a competing bid from the Virginia-based mega-hospitality management company Guest Services Inc., effectively ending the locally owned Schwarze Enterprises’ successful operation and destroying a local small business.

Earlier this week, I found myself wondering what became of the commonsense notion of municipal, county and state governments providing preference in procurement and contracts to Florida-based businesses as a means of bolstering the local economy, generating jobs and regional supply chains, and creating an “economic multiplier” effect in the community where those dollars originate?

I asked Team Volusia about the situation in the state park, and received the following response from someone close to Volusia’s “economic development” apparatus:

“To answer your question Mark, Team Volusia is not charged with expansion and retention of local businesses. That task is under the purview of Volusia County’s Economic Development department. But hey, never let lack of research get in the way of undeserved criticism … .”

Sorry. My bad.

I didn’t realize just how redundant and compartmentalized things have become in that shadowy tax-supported domain of “economic development.”

Putting aside the “Not my yob, man — that department’s down the hall” bureaucratic nonsense, in my view, it should be everyone’s responsibility to protect, retain, nurture and expand small businesses in Volusia County, which form the very backbone of our economy.

So, say goodbye to a time-honored local tradition that became part of the culture of our community — a small, family-owned business that for more than six decades worked hard to support West Volusia’s tourism industry and provide a memorable experience for generations of residents and visitors.

Say hello to a faux version of the original.

— Barker writes a blog, usually about local government, at A retired police chief, Barker says he lives as a semi-recluse in an arrogantly shabby home in coastal Central Florida, with his wife and two dogs. This is excerpted from his blog, lightly edited (he swears a lot) and reprinted with his permission


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