The following is a profile done on Mark Shevitski by the Boca Beacon in August of 1992. It was written by Karen Parker Cromley and has not been adapted in any way. Mark passed away last week, leaving our island cloaked in sadness. You can find his obituary in the April 17 edition of the Boca Beacon. FROM THE BOCA BEACON ARCHIVES – He’s a Fort Myers boy, a real cracker, an auto mechanic, realtor, restaurant owner, volunteer fireman, EMT, gas station owner, landscape mogul, tarpon tournament director and church organist.
For a while he even dabbled in the cattle trade, and in the future he dreams of being a Costa Rican coffee plantation owner.
His name is Mark Shevitski, and the sky seems to be the limit when he’s around. Got a business? Want to start a new one? Ask Shevitski, the human tumbleweed of entrepreneurs. He’s got the technique on how to succeed in business down pat.
Shevitski is a familiar name around Boca Grande, the town he’s called home since moving here in April of 1981 with his first and second wife, who managed the North First Bank (which used to be located where C&S Bank is now).
First and second wife? Yes. After divorcing his first wife he remarried her, and she became his second wife. Together they moved to Boca Grande, explained Shevitski with a sheepish grin.
But we digress. Back to those early days in Boca Grande.
Shevitski, 41, rolled into town driving a 1973 Pinto with few prospects and even less money. He had been working as an auto mechanic at his father’s Texaco station in Fort Myers and raising several head of cattle on a ranch outside of town.
Those were the days when Boca Grande was still a sleepy little hamlet on the verge of a building boom that would forever change the complexion of Gasparilla Island.
For the first three months he was on the island, Shevitski helped architect Rick Thurkow build the Methodist parsonage. He oldest of six kids, Shevitski had always had a lot of responsibility thrust onto his shoulders. He was taught the importance of a strong work ethic at a very young age, and that lesson has stuck with him throughout his life.
“My father is really the one who taught me to work and the value of honesty,” he said. “That it all ties together. He was ambitious and always in business for himself. No one ever gave him anything and I didn’t have anything given to me. What I have I have earned. Friends have helped, but I have a lot of pride in knowing I can do it on my own.”
He was quick to perceive the possibilities inherent in the coming building boom, and wasted little time in obtaining a real estate brokers license and opening his own firm, Gulf to Bay Properties.
It was from this springboard that Shevitski began to build up her personal island resume and it was because of his real estate business that Shevitski was instrumental in reviving the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce, which had dwindled into near non-existence.
“I opened Gulf to Bay Properties in March of 1982, above North First Bank,” said Shevitski. “I think I moved that business around to just about every office space in town. I was in one location twice.”
Since there was no place else to locate the Chamber of Commerce, Shevitski located it inside his real estate office, and then went around recruiting new members until he had just about every business owner in town involved.
It also was during this period that Shevitski became a volunteer fireman and a volunteer ambulance driver. He later became a volunteer EMT as part of the island’s medical service, and sat on the island’s water board.
“I enjoy volunteer work and it’s also good for my business to be a visible member of the community,” he said. “I like the people I have met in Boca Grande and I like being able to have an influence on my town. Here you can be a big fish in a little town. Anyone can. All they have to do is to become involved. It’s harder to accomplish that in a large town.”
Since Shevitski had been taking organ lessons since he was 10 or 12, Father Charles Sullivan, the former priest at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, finagled him into taking over the duty as organ player during services. It is a service he performs to this day, and it also has evolved into his being made choirmaster of the men’s Christmas choir.
“There’s a diverse group of people here in Boca Grande,” Shevitski explained. “This is not the usual kind of small town, which makes it interesting. You can be sitting at a bar and on one side is a mullet fisherman, and on the other side is a millionaire … and you can’t tell the difference. The quality of life here is unique. It’s where it’s at for me.”
Around this time Shevitski divorced his wife and remarried. He and Darlene had a son, Brian. He bought a house on the corner of Third Street and Park Avenue that used to belong to the local Catholic Church, remodeling it mostly himself. He was settling into the town he had chosen to call home.
“But I hated the office environment of real estate,” he said. “I needed a new challenge.”
So without any prior experience he decided to open a restaurant. That was in September of 1987.
Among the properties Shevitski managed through his real estate company was the Theatre Mall, which contained Bogart’s Restaurant and several small shops.
“The owners of Bogart’s didn’t really have the necessary time for their restaurant,” he said. “I talked Paul Kruder, who owned the building, into going into the restaurant business with me, with neither of us knowing a thing about the business. We called it Mark’s Theater Restaurant, and right from the beginning it took off.
“I enjoyed the business but it was a stressful situation in a family environment, and besides that I went without any income for two and a half years as we got the business off the ground. That was about all I could stand, so Paul bought me out. A lot of my ideas are still on the menu; many of my ideas are still in place there. It’s my favorite restaurant on the island.”
Shevitski still had the real estate office but he was looking for yet another challenge and found it in landscaping. Throughout his years of managing properties through his real estate company, he frequently used the services of island landscape companies.
Since it was outdoor work, the idea of his own landscape company appealed to him. Typically he plunged into the business without any hesitation, starting out small and quickly building his business up. He later sold the real estate company to Patty Seidensticker, a realtor-associate, now broker, who had worked for his company for several years.
“I need a bit of a challenge to stay interested in a business. I’ve decided I like being outside more than inside. I began with four or five accounts working by myself,” he said. “Now I have six to seven employees and about 70 accounts. I love it and I see the opportunity to get as big as I can stand. I’ve got seven trucks including pickups, a dump truck and a boom truck. I’m happy right now and I think I’ve found where I want to stay business-wise.”
His father passed away several years ago, and in the interim he has purchased his father’s gas station from his mother. He continues to operate it in Fort Myers. Between that business and his landscaping jobs, he keeps busy. But he hasn’t reached all of his goals yet, he explained.
“My father was a partner with some people in Costa Rico with some property,” Shevitski said. “After my father died I bought the partner out. Micky Crawford and I went down there and there was nothing. It looked like there had been an old mining operation on the property once, but now all there is is a bunch of squatters, a few banana trees and some coffee plants. Nothing productive, but someday…”
Shevitski said he and some partners are also interested in investing in Cuba after Castro dies, or if his government is toppled.
“There will be many opportunities in Cuba, when Castro goes out of power. We’re looking into it right now.”
If Shevitski works hard, he also plays hard.
“I’m not really a sportsman,” he said. “I don’t hunt, although I do like to fish. I just always seem to have something to do. I guess it’s the pride bit. I came here with nothing and have been able to support a couple of families, buy a house … and I’m still here. I guess that says it all.”