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Looking for family time? Head to downtown Gainesville
Skogies alcohol-free atmosphere gives children a place to play
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Jessica Manus gets on stage with son Jonathan, 6, to help him sing "Teddy Bear" at Skogie's in downtown Gainesville during the restaurant's Sunday evening "family" karaoke.

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Rick Skoglund talks about his decision not to serve alcohol at the downtown Gainesville restaurant.

Some might think they would need a drink or two to stand before a restaurant audience and sing using a karaoke machine.

But alcohol is not an option at the newly opened Skogie's restaurant at 212 Spring St., off the Gainesville square.

The business is alcohol free.

Owner Rick Skoglund said he toyed with the idea of selling beer and wine, "but as it got closer and closer to (opening), I got more and more convicted about not selling it and not serving it to others," he said.

"I chose ... to make (Skogie's) a more family place."

The restaurant's opening in October marked Skoglund's first leap from his original Skogie's establishment at the Gainesville Marina off Dawsonville Highway in West Hall.

Skoglund, a Minnesota native who has been in the restaurant business on and off for more than 20 years, opened the marina location in July 2005.

He said he began thinking about opening another location because employees wanted year-round employment, as the first Skogie's is open April through October.

"I got some loyal (employees) who come back every year ... so this opportunity came up and we thought we would give it a shot downtown," he said.

Skoglund doesn't sell alcohol at the marina, either, "because it's in the county, so people can bring their own."

His decision to go against the trend of downtown eateries selling alcohol took a toll, he confesses.

"It hurt us dollarwise and certainly hurt me pridewise to see customers come in and sit down who were good regulars of ours at the lake and others who wanted to try our food. Because they couldn't get alcohol, they would get up and leave.

"But for every one of those, it seems we've got at least one new customer who comes in ... and an awful lot of them say, ‘Hey, I'm here because you don't serve alcohol and you wouldn't have me as a customer if you did.' "

Skoglund's restaurant, however, isn't the usual room full of tables and chairs, with activity limited to customers ordering, eating, paying and leaving.

The restaurant, located in the former Boiler Room, has underground ambience and features a stage where customers sing to a karaoke machine that features a playlist of 17,500 songs.

"Where else can you take your children to karaoke? ... So, the atmosphere is real conducive to families. Plus, we've got the aquariums and kids love them. We've got a wall they can draw on.

"So, we have families come in and the kids want to sing a couple (of songs) and then they want to eat and get home to get to bed. They got school the next day."

Skogie's began karaoke nights on Sundays five weeks ago and Thursdays two weeks ago.

One of those crooning into a microphone during a visit to the restaurant this past Sunday night was Bill Morrison of Gainesville.

"It's your other personality," he said in explaining why enjoys karaoke. "It's your shower-singing side."

Morrison had just sung the 1950s tune "The Great Pretender," saying he prefers the oldies.

Skoglund also grabs the mic on occasion to give his touch to Frank Sinatra tunes. He gets a crowd response too, with "older couples getting up and dancing."

He said crowds are sporadic. "We've had as many as 62 here. Some nights, it's been 10 or so."

Holiday activities, such as shopping and parties, are thinning some of the recent crowds.

And Skoglund is slowing business for Christmas, with plans to close the business Tuesday through Friday. The business normally isn't open on Mondays.

Regardless, Skoglund said he believes he's on the right track with his family emphasis.

"We're trying to provide something for the community that we think doesn't exist," he said.

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