PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla — Pretty much everything about Gary Crookshanks’ business, from the booming design on his truck to the explosive flavor of his coffee, is an extension of his personality.
“What’s sitting here is a representation of me,” he says. “And I take that really personal.”
Gary’s story is the newest in a series called SWFL Reinvented: Moving Forward. Every week, Fox 4 Morning News Anchor, Chris Shaw, features a new person who changed the course of their life, took a chance, and started a new business. We then follow them for all the ups and downs of their first year in business.
Before he opened up his mobile coffee bar in Charlotte County, Gary lived in Iowa. He had a career as a fire fighter. He raised a family. He even opened his own quick lube business. And right around the time he was thinking about retiring, something changed.
He and his wife started to worry that their grandchildren weren’t safe at home. So they spent years getting custody of them.
“I want them to have every opportunity anyone else would have,” Gary says.
“And then we just kind of thought, why should our lives completely shut down over this? Let’s give us a new opportunity, let’s give the girls a new opportunity,” he says. “The other grandparents live here in North Port. And we always talked about coming here and retiring to Florida. So they said, ‘why don’t you come down, bring the kids down, spend a week and just drive around the area, see what you think about it.’”
The loved the area. They got the girls in school and involved in other activities, and Gary started thinking about retirement again.
“But I kind of have ants in my pants, so I don’t sit still very well, and this had always been in the back of my mind.”
His original idea was a food truck where he could sell energy drinks. He saw something like it work in Iowa. Then he tasted Black Gold Coffee, from up the road in Sarasota.
“When I hooked up with him, it was like ‘Wow, this is amazing,” Gary says. “‘This is exactly what I want.’”
So last year, Gary started planning Nuclear Energy and Coffee Bar. Since he opened in February, he’s taken the truck out almost everyday. He’s developed a good base of regular customers, and is relying on his past business success to get this business off the ground.
“There’s a lot of commitment to time to make something successful,” he says. “You don’t just come up with an idea and present it to the people and then you’re not around. You have to work this thing. You create it, but you have to work it.”
The girls help him out sometimes, too. And they’re what makes this different for Gary. They’re the extra incentive to make it work. He says the money he makes, will pay for their college.
“When you raise kids, you never expect you’re going to raise kids again. But if that’s what I was called to do, if that’s what I was put on this earth for, to make sure these girls have a fair shot, then that’s it. That’s what I’m here for.”