It started with a simple idea: ask a few beachgoers enjoying some free parking to “pay it forward” by chipping in to help a New Smyrna Beach restaurant recover from a fire.
But when a fan of the restaurant asked her Instagram followers to get involved, the simple idea became an international fundraiser that has already netted more than $26,000 in donations.
The Beacon Restaurant was acquired 40 years ago by John Kotsonis after he and his wife, Toula, relocated to New Smyrna Beach from Greece. Tom Pappas founded the restaurant about 20 years before that and the building was sold to the Kotsonis family at Mr. Pappas death in 2019.
Mr. Kotsonis had to close the restaurant April 11 after a kitchen fire damaged the building.
New Smyrna Beach Realtor David Kosmas, who is a lifelong friend of the Kotsonis family, thought the local community might be willing to help the restaurant to open its doors again. “My wife and I drove by one day and we saw a bunch of people parking there, using their parking. I thought, ‘If they’re going to park here, they can pay it forward,’” Mr. Kosmas said.
So he had banners made that asked those enjoying the free parking to consider making a financial donation toward the reopening of the restaurant. The banners include a code that, when scanned with a phone, takes you to a page on the Go Fund Me website where you can donate to “help and support The Beacon.”
The webpage explains that closures caused by Covid-19 pandemic and the kitchen fire hit the restaurant during “critical high-peak business months,” and asks "anyone that feels included to help us support 'Pay It Forward' to these kind folks so that we can bring back one of New Smyrna Beach's faithful . . . The Beacon!"
Within the first two weeks of the launch of the Go Fund Me project, more than 80 donors contributed more than $6,000. And then things got really interesting.
MacKenzie Smith is a New Smyrna Beach local who has been eating at the Beacon since she was a child. She is also a cookbook author, blogger and local chef with almost 115,000 Instagram followers. When she heard about the Go Fund Me project set up for The Beacon, she asked her followers to get involved.
Ms. Smith said she started by putting some feelers out to her community, encouraging them to spare what they could. “With 115,000 followers, we could really do some good with this,” she thought. When $300 came in within five minutes, she knew something was happening. In less than 24 hours, she had raised more than $20,000.
“Watching this has not only restored my faith in humanity, but I feel so fortunate and so grateful that this community that I have online could spare some money and now we are able to save this local iconic restaurant that has been through some really tough times.”
The Kotsonis family has been working diligently since the fire to get The Beacon’s doors back open, but it has been challenging. Backlogs in supplies caused by the pandemic and the lengthy process of obtaining approvals from insurance companies have delayed progress.
“It’s been over a month and everything is still on hold,” said George Kotsonis, the Kotsonis’ son and one of many family members who helps run the restaurant. “I guess the community wants us open a little faster and they’re doing whatever it takes to get us going. We really appreciate it,” Mr. Kotsonis said.
Virginia Stephens and her husband, Terry, own The Seahorse Inn, which sits across the street from The Beacon. She says all of her guests are eager to see it open again. “Every guest has come and said ‘Where are we going to eat breakfast? Where are we going to get hashbrowns?’ Everybody is freaking out.”
The Kotsonis announced in April they would be open again by the end of June. George Kotsonis says they still think they’ll hit that date, thanks in large part to the community’s help.
“My dad is old school and would never ask for help, but we appreciate all of the help from everyone,” he said. “It’s all going to go toward the restaurant and staff and getting us opened up as fast as we can.”