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Look what Melanie's done to the house, Ma

By MICHELE MILLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 1998


TARPON SPRINGS -- The sweet sound of Melanie's voice, blended with her daughter Jeordie's harmony and her son Beau-Jarred's strumming guitar, wafts through the airy rooms of the old house and out onto the veranda.

photo
Folk song writer and singer Melania Safka, front, and her husband, Peter Schekeryk, are opening a restaurant and coffee house in Tarpon Springs. [Times photo: Joseph Garnett Jr.]
It is an impromptu performance played for a near-empty house, but it is appreciated by those gathered to help out with the finishing touches before the May 5 opening of Melanie's restaurant and coffee house on Tarpon Avenue.

The song she sings, Estate Sales, written by Cheryl Wheeler, might hit a familiar chord for those who like to spend Saturday mornings sorting through the treasures of people who have passed on.

The sound of Melanie's voice could bring a touch of nostalgia to former flower children of the 1960s who remember late nights spent in coffeehouses listening to the musings of poets or the songs of folk singers hoping to hit it big one day.

Back then, while Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were emerging, Melanie Safka, dressed in beatnik black and rebelling against her mother's jazz influence, sang in folk clubs.

The years that followed brought success and celebrity.

She went on to write and record her own songs, among them Candles in the Rain, Brand New Key and Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma. She became known simply as Melanie, she says, when the record company decided to drop her last name off the label.

She did the stint at Woodstock in 1969, where, she says, "I was probably the only person there who wasn't stoned."

Brand New Key became a No. 1 single, selling more than 3-million copies. There were performances on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.

She toured the world and in 1994 returned to Woodstock for the 25th anniversary concert. Her most recent release, a Christmas album called Antlers, will hit stores in September.

It was after a grueling five-year tour schedule that Melanie says she discovered Clearwater Beach.

"I was feeling so beaten up from being on the road," she says. "The sand was so white, the beach was paradise. It was just a beautiful place to come and relax."

Over the years she would return to Clearwater when she needed a place to rest for a while.

Eight years ago, Melanie and her husband of 30 years, Peter Schekeryk, who also is her manager and producer, decided to set down roots with their three children in Pinellas County.

"We tried North Hampton, Germany, Palm Beach and finally upstate New York -- but that was too remote. Then Peter said, "Why don't we go to Florida?' " Melanie said.

She says her children have thrived in the Florida sun. Her two daughters, Leilah and Jeordie, graduated from Countryside High and sing professionally, as Safka, Melanie's maiden name.

Her son, Beau-Jarred, is a true Florida child, she says. He has attended public school but is now home-schooled because he tours with Melanie on the road.

They will open the Taste of Pinellas on May 29 and plan a tour through Belgium and Holland in November.

For now, Melanie says, she looks forward to performing in a smaller venue, closer to home, in a place she calls her own.

While the sign in front of the restaurant bears her name, the interior and exterior design of Melanie's has been a true collaboration, from start to finish. Says Schekeryk, "Everyone's been pitching in and helping out."

Melanie herself mixed the chartreuse paint that adorns the outside of the frame vernacular house built in 1905 in the middle of the historic district. The bright, multicolored border was also her idea.

Jeordie has ideas for painted tablecloths that are "tie-dye, but not really tie-dye." She recently spent two days painting a landscape in the bathroom.

Beau-Jarred put his special touches on the men's room and isn't above donning old clothes to climb the steep-pitched hip roof with a bucket of purple paint and a brush.

The hand-painted lyrics of Melanie's first recorded single, Beautiful People, serve as a welcoming sign in the foyer. Next to that is the Tribute Wall, a collection of baubles and buttons, small treasures collected from fans over the years, along with an old pair of brightly painted roller skates, a reminder of her signature song, Brand New Key.

The work of local and national artists is displayed on the walls and, if you choose to look up, even on the ceilings. Friends and international artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda designed the brightly painted plexiglass paneling that borders the inside walls.

Melanie is thrilled with the result.

"It's so whimsical," she says, "The art and the food are definitely the opening act."

Walter Fufidio, the director of planning and zoning for the city of Tarpon Springs, admits the brightly painted building might get mixed reviews from locals. But he says Melanie's is a welcome addition to what is a growing cultural mecca in Tarpon Springs.

"The more diversified we are, the more people we'll bring in," he said. "There are a lot of good things happening in Tarpon Springs, and this is just one of them."

Melanie's will offer Floribbean-style cuisine, a combination of fruits, fish, poultry, meats and spices often cooked in natural casings, for lunch and dinner. At 9 p.m. it will turn into an after-hours coffeehouse.

Desserts and coffee blends produced by Clearwater-based Melita Coffee and created by celebrities such as Richie Havens and comedian-folk singer Christine Levin will be served.

"There will be a lot to choose from," says Melanie, whose celebrity coffee is a true Colombian blend. "Artists love coffee -- some like different flavors. Others, like me, are real purists."

Melanie and her children will perform, along with local talent. There will be drop-in performances by some rather famous celebrities.

"We don't plan on announcing anything," Schekeryk says. "It's one of those things where you come by and you might be pleasantly surprised."

Melanie notes that there is a renewed interest in the '60s and '70s. Tie-dye and bell-bottoms are in vogue once again, she says. Commercials catering to the baby-boomer generation frequently use songs written by her peers.

"For a while there, it wasn't cool to be Melanie," she says. "Now, it's cool to be Melanie again."'

Melanie hopes that, like her music, the restaurant will stand the test of time.

"I think it will be a nice place to get great food. I think it will be a place to come late at night when everything's closed," she says. "It will be a place to perform for a small audience, do it real acoustic, do it real pure.

"There's a lot of talent here -- local singers and performers -- so I'll be in good company. I'll do a few late-night shows and you can come and get coffee and cake."

For reservations, call (813) 943-5009.


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