When Jo Anne Perlini, who with her then-husband Enzo opened Enzo’s on the Lake in 1980, announced in October that she had sold the Longwood restaurant, many of the longtime customers were worried that it would change.
John Khalil, the Orlando dentist who bought it, wants to assure you that he intends to keep Enzo’s Enzo’s. “This place is kind of an institution,” said Khalil. “I love the atmosphere, the feel and obviously the food.” And in the two months that he’s owned it he’s stayed the proven course. Most of the staff, including the servers, cooks and the chef, Brandon Parran, have stayed on. Only one longtime server decided to leave, “But he made that decision before he met us,” said Khalil.
Of course Jo Anne Perlini, too, is no longer associated with the restaurant. But you can also thank her that Enzo’s will stay the same. According to Khalil, who purchased the restaurant with his business partner Logan Berkowitz for $3.2 million, there was another bidder for the business – offering more, he believes – but that person did not want to keep it Enzo’s. Perlini chose Khalil and Berkowitz’s offer because they assured her they wanted to keep things the way they were. “We had to save Enzo’s,” Khalil said.
Khalil, 51, has been with University Dental Group for 25 years. A native of Toronto, he moved to the U.S. to attend dental school at Northwestern University in 1993. For recreation, he plays hockey in a couple of local leagues. That probably doesn’t sound unusual for someone who grew up in Canada, but Khalil says he never played until he moved to Florida. Asked if he plays hockey to drum up business for his dental practice, he joked that, “Unfortunately a lot of people wear full facemasks” when they play.
Khalil said that he’s never owned a high end restaurant but has always been interested in culinary. His first job, at age 13, was as a dishwasher in a restaurant – “An Italian restaurant, ironically” – and he toyed with the idea of becoming a chef. “But my parents said, ‘No, you’re doing pharmacy, dentistry or medical.’”
He said he’d like to get to the point where he can help out in the kitchen, as he observed Perlini doing on occasion, but only if Parran, the chef, has time to show him the ropes.
He and Berkowitz have owned bars, including Knight’s Library near UCF and Treehouse Attic and Basement in downtown Orlando. And they still own 509 Lounge in Daytona Beach, where they’ve also just purchased another restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway to be called Riverside Johnny’s, as reported here.
But a full service restaurant, especially one with Enzo’s pedigree, is new. “It’s scary to be a restaurateur,” he said. Perlini put him somewhat at ease when she told him that the staff wanted to stay on.
“The transition’s been smooth,” he said. “I’m not an in-your-face owner. The staff is great so I don’t have to be.”
Although he does not intend to change anything about the menu or the everything-made-from-scratch preparation, there could be some additions down the road. He wants to make better use of the lakefront, adding landscaping and perhaps a deck off of the overflow dining room, which itself is an addition to the original house, maybe with a two-sided bar. But the main dining rooms will remain the same.
“I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel.”