Pensacola, Florida
Monday October 15th 2018


Building An Empire

With Lee Kafeety of Cactus Flower Café

In April 2001, with zero restaurant experience, Lee Kafeety opened the very first Cactus Flower Café. Sixteen years and six locations later, Kafeety along with co-owner Joni DeRome are two of the most successful women in the Pensacola restaurant industry.

“I had a great passion for food and a burning desire to bring some fresh, California-style Mexican food to my community,” Kafeety said.

As luck would have it, she said, she got surrounded by just the right people to help her reach her goal of opening the restaurant.

“Everything happened very organically and naturally,” she said. “It was really amazing. Friends, professionals and even city officials were on board with making sure Cactus Flower became a reality. It was really a community effort. It took a whole village.”

Now with six locations in Northwest Florida and Alabama, Kafeety said that she never would have expected the growth her restaurant would soon experience.

“I felt pretty confident that my one location would be successful,” she said. “I knew what the quality of my food was and I knew my market. But if you would have told me I would have six locations 15 years later, I probably would be afraid and not done it.”

Kafeety and DeRome take on different roles in the business, which is a method that works well for the two owners.

“I’m the right brain, and she’s the left,” Kafeety said. “She’s the numbers girl, and I’m the foodie. I’ve always been a foodie.”

Kafeety said that her job doesn’t feel like work because she genuinely loves feeding people.

“Food is love,” Kafeety said. “It’s the way you show people your love for them. You open your home and cook and show people you love them, and that’s what I wanted to do for my community. I wanted to feed my community. I can’t tell you how much I love what I do.”

Kafeety said that for anyone who has hopes of opening up their own restaurant, a business plan is a must.

“One of the best things I did was making a business plan,” Kafeety said. “My bank actually made me make one. I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t need to do this.’ But it was actually one of the most important things I did. It makes you look at everything as a big picture. It’s one of the most important pieces of research for your business.”

Kafeety also said that owning a restaurant is 80 percent dealing with employees, so having the ability to be a good leader to your employees is essential.

Her advice to women chasing a culinary dream: “It has to be a passion. It can’t just be something you enjoy or like. I think that’s the main difference. Besides that, having a good business concept and having good people surrounding you in the process is very important.”

Cactus Flower Café

East Hill: 3425 N. 12th Ave.
Pensacola Beach: 400 Quietwater Beach Road (on The Boardwalk)
West Pensacola: 6881 W. Highway 98
Pace: 4865 Highway 90
Navarre: 8725 Ortega Park Dr.
Dothan: 5412 Montgomery Highway.