News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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Come as you are — Leucadia hangout Captain Keno’s open for a little while longer

Longtime restaurant owner honored by Encinitas City Council
Captain Keno’s restaurant has been a popular local hangout in Encinitas for more than 50 years. It’s set to close by the end of August to make way for new development. (Encinitas Historical Society photo)

It’s a weekday afternoon at Captain Keno’s restaurant in Leucadia. A handful of patrons sit at the bar, and on the far side of the building with windows facing the highway, owner Gerry Sova sits in reflection.

After pausing, he says, “The sale brings back old memories.”

That was before June 26, Sova’s birthday, when the Encinitas City Council issued a proclamation honoring Sova and his decades in business at the historic spot, and before he was sidelined by a hip injury, Mayor Tony Kranz noted in remarks during the council’s presentation.

Earlier last month, Sova recalled hardships from the early days of his business, and how he would go outside to wave at passersby in hopes that they would stop in.

Now, over 50 years later, Captain Keno’s is known for its nostalgic vibe and prices to match. Sova’s philanthropic efforts in feeding local firefighters, nonprofit groups and customers during special holiday meals  —  whether or not they could afford to pay  —  are some of the ways he gives back. Inspired by his personal health journey, Sova recently began whipping up a batch of vegetable soup every morning for his customers to enjoy too.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Captain Keno’s owner Gerry Sova cuts his birthday cake at the Encinitas on June 26, 2013, in this restaurant social media photo. After more than 50 years in operation, the restaurant is set to close this summer. (Social media photo)

Captain Keno’s is anticipated to remain open through the end of August. After that, RAF Pacifica Group will proceed with a mixed-use redevelopment project.

Sova’s memories of Captain Keno’s are bittersweet, but he knows that what he’s created is unsustainable in today’s tough economy. Despite this, the 84-year-old isn’t entirely throwing in the hat. Instead, he plans to focus on new projects with his two adopted sons.

As a boy, Sova dreamed of being successful. Growing up in a family of 20 children, he was used to being in a crowd. At 17 years old, he started a nightclub for fellow teens, but his license was pulled when the licensees realized how old he actually was. In his early years, Sova hitchhiked seven times across the United States. He also backpacked for 90 days around Europe.

He lived in Vista for 10 years before moving to Encinitas. It had a spiritual pull, he explains, and it was a place where people accepted him.

Sova believes that dreams come true if you work hard enough. But, he admits, though, that you’ve got to, “Be real crazy to be in the business,” and that what we do in our lives is a result of searching ourselves for something.

Until the restaurant’s final day, Sova and his team will welcome anyone who needs a place to eat, drink and simply be accepted.

Acknowledging the abundance of love he’s seen in Encinitas, Sova says of the people who have enjoyed Captain Keno’s, “They’ll find something that’ll be OK.”

Charlene Pulsonetti is a local freelance writer.