The lights of two dart machines glow in the corner of Silver Dollar Saloon in Historic Downtown Plant City. The purple hues play off owner Anna Genco’s blond hair.
The bar is smoky but charming, tucked away in a slot between other store fronts. It’s because of Genco that loyal patrons come back time and time again. The space has seen many owners come and go.
But Genco brought it back to life.
The barflies know her as a big-hearted woman. Charity event after charity event, Genco can’t stop hosting them. Every June, she picks a cause and throws a huge party complete with raffles, auctions and drinks. The stage hidden in the corner is usually stacked high with prizes.
The United Food Bank of Plant City is her biggest beneficiary. But, her favorite crusade was for a little boy who was blind. Genco helped raise $2,000 so the family could get a house in St. Augustine. There, the little boy could attend Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.
“That one was probably the most memorable thing ever,” Genco says, sitting at one of the high tops. “When (his mother) got him there, he was starting to learn things and do things.”
Her bartender brings her a crumpled picture of the little boy from the back office. She sets it on the table, tapping it. His eye bulge out of his head, severely deformed.
“It’s the closest to my heart,” Genco says.
Genco intermixes her work and play. But it’s been a long road for the successful business owner to get where she is today.
LEARNING THE BAR BIZ
Genco was born in Tampa to a big Italian family of six siblings. She barely met one of her brothers last year.
At 19, Genco’s life took a turn. She became pregnant with her daughter, Jennifer. When the father disappeared, she was even more responsible for her child. Luckily, her mother was there to help.
Genco’s mother had been a bar manager since Genco was young. So, she started to work in bars as a way to support her and her daughter.
After working at the Hawaiian Village off Dale Mabry, she made the switch to Culpepper’s.
But, again, she ran into a roadblock.
She became addicted to drugs for two years. The owner gave her a break. He was married to the owner of Silver Dollar Saloon, in Tampa. If she got clean, she would hire her. Genco went to three months of rehab.
“I’ve never touched drugs in my life again,” Genco says proudly, sitting up straighter in her chair.
The dart machines behind her make an excited shrill.
She was hired at Silver Dollar Saloon, saving up all her pennies until the time was right for her to fulfill her dream. She wanted to own her own bar.
Looking around the Silver Dollar Saloon in Plant City, no one would guess it was once a dilapidated mess.
Genco has turned the bar around since she’s owned it. Just like she turned around her own life.
It was an ad in the newspaper that caught Genco’s eye when she was looking to buy her own place in the early 2000s. Walking in, she was met by the 72-year-old owner, Peggy Joyce. Cane in hand and wig on head, Joyce was anything but tiny. The 6-foot-2 woman towered over her customers.
“I fell in love with the town; I fell in love with the bar,” Genco said. “The feeling of it was there. It felt homey unlike the busy bars I had been in. It was more free.”
Genco purchased the bar on April Fool’s Day in 2002, and although she thought it was homey, it needed a lot of work. The roof had caved in; the red carpeted floors were torn up.
In addition to her charity work, Genco is also responsible for preserving the history of the building. The property had operated as a bar since the 1940s. Back then it was a stag bar. In the 1960s, it became Red Fred’s. This year, the building turned 100. Genco still has kept part of the original horseshoe-shaped bar. She also keeps her eyes and ears open to all her patrons that come through the doors.
“They tell you a lot of stories …” Genco says. “Everyone tells stories, and you learn a lot.”
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
What was your first job?
Main Street Ice Cream Parlor
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t even remember. A doctor or a nurse. Now I just doctor drunks and nurse them back to health.
What’s the best advice you have for being successful?
Just follow everything you believe in, your dreams. I know it takes money but I surprised myself when I did. I never thought I could do it
Who is your role model?
My mother, Minerva Genco.
What’s the hardest life lesson you’ve learned?
This is going to make me look like a bad person. I was a drug addict at one point, but that’s what I did. I overcame it.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Mine would be to fly over cars so I won’t have road rage.
What’s the No. 1 played song on your iPod?
“I Will Survive.” I have “Footloose” on my phone. I’m a disco queen, man. I was pregnant and I was still winning dance competitions.
If you were reincarnated as an animal, what animal would it be?
Cat. They’re sassy and they still get away with everything.
What’s your least favorite food?
Sushi. It’s disgusting. No, you’ve got to put oysters, because they’re just slimy.
Where would you go in a time machine?
Italy … probably in the 70s, to see what my grandfather lived through.