Everything seemed to fall in place for the new owners of a familiar one-stop paddle shop in Key Largo.
Todd Cook and family made it official when they left Utah, ventured to the Keys and purchased Florida Bay Outfitters from Frank and Monica Woll, who started the business in the early 1990s. The takeover was official on July 14.
Cook lived in Marathon, where he was a flight instructor, some 20 years ago. He said it’s been a process in returning to the islands.
“I was a commercial airline pilot for 28 years,” Cook said. “With the whole COVID thing, they offered me early retirement. I called some friends and said, ‘Hey, do you know of a kayak business for sale?’”
Running a little shack on the beach with 20 or so kayaks for people to rent and take out on the pristine bayside waters was Cook’s end game, or so he thought. Little did he know that the new business venture would end up with Florida Bay Outfitters. In June, Cook came down to work a few weeks with the former owners and fellow employees.
Once the sale was official, the work began, in the way of improvements and adding new products. Florida Bay Outfitters has been known for its large, diverse selection of kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.
“We brought in new clothing lines and a lot of different swimwear,” he said. “We brightened up the showroom and remodeled the kayak racks and put in new stuff like that.”
Cook runs the business with his daughter, Courtney, and son, Trevor. The rest of his crew is composed of Shawn, Vaughn and Nicole. Along with the storefront, Florida Bay Outfitters is staying busy renting boards and kayaks to people who launch from the beach. They also deliver equipment to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
“Kayaking is one of the best social activities. You can do things and stay socially distanced since most kayaks are 14 feet long,” he said. “It’s a great outdoor exercise so people can get out and stay healthy. There’s a lot of space out there and you can get away from crowds and hang with the manatees.”
Cook said the new endeavor has been great with the warm welcome he’s received from the community.
“A lot of people saw 2020 as a bad year. For us, the timing just worked out,” he said.
Florida Bay Outfitters is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information is at paddlefloridakeys.com or on Florida Bay Outfitters’ Facebook page.