Sanibel chef opens his home to a variety of animals
The backyard of Dave Krajnak’s home, which began as a sanctuary for many animals recovering from an injury, has become a forever home for many varieties of birds, turtles and iguanas over the years.
He said he developed a love for animals as a young boy growing up in Wisconsin due to the proximity of farms surrounding his folks home. Krajnak said his wife, Blanche’s, love of animals is partially why many of the animals were adopted, because she fell in love with each one as they took care of them.
The couple worked with CROW for many years, helping rescue animals and on occasion provided a foster home for them. A number of their African sulcata turtles, the third largest tortoise in the world, came from CROW.
Krajnak said they purchased their first sulcata from a reptile fair in 2002 before additional tortoises joined the family as rescues. Two of them were found after hurricanes, and one was found walking on the island.
The backyard has been turned into a sanctuary for the tortoises, providing ample opportunities to walk into huts Krajnak built to provide shelter. The yard, which is now sand, also gives the tortoises the opportunity to dig when they are feeling dehydrated.
He said after it rains, the tortoises flip mud onto their backs from the water that forms into puddles to stay cool. The tortoises also fling dry sand onto their backs, again to stay cool.
The tortoises eat eight or nine cases of romaine lettuce a week, an excellent water source for them. They also eat vegetables like zucchini and squash, as well as prickly pear.
Toby is the couple’s biggest sulcata tortoise, weighing in around 275 pounds.
Others that share a smaller portion of the backyard include the red-foot and yellow-foot tortoises.
Cuban, blue rhino (otherwise known as a blue iguana), and regular iguanas can be found in large cages right off the back porch of his home, all ranging in size from small to large, and have many levels to enjoy in their habitat.
Krajnak said after you work and spend time with the iguanas, they become tame, which affords him the opportunity to hold them when wearing gloves.
In addition to the reptiles, many songs can be heard while visiting Krajnak’s home from the cockatiels, a ring-neck parakeet found at Jerry’s Foods, finches, and an African gray parrot. Two conures also call the Krajnak’s their home.
He said when they took in Ricky, one of the two conures, he had no feathers and his skin was completely irritated. After drinking fresh water, the feathers started to grow back.
“When you get to know their attitude and activities, it creates trust and it helps,” Krajnak said of the birds.
When Krajnak is not taking care of the animals, he is spending time at The Lighthouse Cafe, where he became the chef almost 26 years ago in 1989.
“I love playing with food,” he said. “Good food makes people happy.”
As the chef, Krajnak takes on the task of creating five or six specials a day for the “board” at the cafe. For dinner, he creates a chef’s menu, often including a variety of available seasonal fish.
In addition to creating menu items at the restaurant, Krajnak also spends time preparing food for catering jobs, many of which are done through the restaurant. Often Blanche, who works at the bakery at Jerry’s Foods, helps with catering by baking desserts for the party.
One of his longest catering gigs happened in 2004 when Hurricane Charley impacted the area. He cooked and prepared food alongside his wife for 11 straight days. What started off as serving 40 people ended with more than 100 by the end of the 11 days.
The idea sprang after the restaurants on the island were having a hard time keeping the food fresh without electricity. When that food started going bad, Sysco Foods began dropping off food to use.
The couple cooked food for such entities as law enforcement, Florida Wildlife and marine patrol during the cleanup effort.
A tent was erected and a table was set up, so the food could be served buffet style.
The menu included anything from steaks, potatoes and corn to barbecue pork, beans corn on the cob and corn bread and sloppy joes, coleslaw and German potato salad.
Many times, Krajnak was escorted in by Scott Ashby of the Sanibel Police Department because of the standstill traffic on the island. He said the sirens were turned on and as he drove onto he causeway everyone began clapping and boats started to come in knowing there was good food to be enjoyed.