The talk is all cars at a bi-monthly gathering of Gulf Coast car devotees. Still, there is business to be had amid the chatter.
Detroit can keep its Big Three.
That's because when it comes to cars, Sarasota has its Big 100 — a group of car lovers that meet twice a month to chat about all things automotive. They come with an exotic and expensive collection of cars, from a 1931 Ford Model A station wagon to a 2008 Ferrari.
But the group, the Sarasota Cafe Racers, isn't just a social get-together and brag session. Its founder, car industry veteran Marty Schorr, plans to take the concept global, branding it and events.
“We want our car guys lunch to look so good that other people will emulate it,” says Schorr. “We hope to grow this thing all over the world.”
Schorr's first move in the global expansion was to hit the Internet. Schorr and Sandy Cohen, a Cafe Racer comrade, recently created a glossy Web site, www.SarasotaCafeRacers.com, to help other car enthusiasts start their own group. Cohen runs Sarasota-based Design Marketing Group, a marketing and communications firm.
The site has already been mentioned in several well-followed car blogs and reports, including Super Chevy magazine. And Schorr, a former media relations executive for Buick and a car magazine editor who recently wrote a book about muscle cars, has already heard from car lovers worldwide who want to start a similar group. Two people from Sweden, for instance, attended a recent meeting in Sarasota.
“This is real social networking,” says Cohen, “versus sitting at home and doing Facebook.”
The Sarasota Cafe Racers was founded in 2003 with just a few car guys. It has since grown mostly by word of mouth, moving to a different and larger restaurant for its meetings every few years. While the group has at least 100 members, about 30-40 people usually show up at the bi-monthly meetings.
Schorr and Cohen also boast about the group's diversity, not just in cars, but in participants. “We don't allow posers,” Schorr says.
Instead, the group is a broad mix of local businessman, entrepreneurs, retired business titans, a large number of semi-retired executives and even one or two police officers — there for the cars, not to hand out speeding tickets.
“It is the most eclectic group of car owners I have ever seen,” says Joe Angeleri, a regular member who runs a custom homebuilding company in Sarasota.
Angeleri brought his 1964 Shelby Cobra to a recent lunch. The Cobra is one of only a few of its kind in the country, says Angeleri. It's worth more than $500,000.
The list of cafe racers who attend lunches occasionally also includes Brian Johnson, the lead singer of rock band AC/DC, who usually arrives in a Rolls Royce. A retired chairman of Merrill Lynch has also appeared at some meetings.
The group even counts two women in its ranks — Kimberly Creger, who owns a computer repair store and drives a Lotus Exige and Mary Ann McAlinden, who co-owns a specialty automobile business and drives a Backdraft Cobra.
While the membership is diverse, the conversations tend to be one-track — all about cars. The only time the recession seems to come up is when it has to do with what someone can't buy when it comes to cars.
Rob Gibby, who ran a metals business in Connecticut before he moved to Sarasota a few years ago, says the gatherings are the one place he can go to chat with like-minded folks. Gibby owns six cars, including the Ford Model A station wagon that is nearly 80 years old.
“My wife thinks I'm nuts,” says Gibby. “I think I'm normal.”