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Restaurant marketing exec tackles new side hustle: Children’s book author

Longtime hospitality business ad man Kevin Rooney, in writing a children’s book, takes a bite out of new market, with new challenges and opportunities.

Kevin Rooney's first book, "Mr. Tootsee McGootsee," came from funny conversations with his wife and their two daughters.
Kevin Rooney's first book, "Mr. Tootsee McGootsee," came from funny conversations with his wife and their two daughters.
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A core memory for Kevin Rooney? Meeting children’s book author Robert Munsch in elementary school. He and the author of kids’ classics like “Love You Forever” and “The Paper Bag Princess” were both from the same town in Canada, and Rooney still has the signed book from that meetup. 

Fast-forward a few decades, and now Rooney is the one whose words might inspire a whole new generation of kids. His first book, “Mr. Tootsee McGootsee,” humorously imparts etiquette tips around a certain bodily function that often makes kids giggle, and he’s already working on several follow-up ideas.

Reading and writing have always been a part of Rooney’s life, so it’s not completely surprising he wound up here. After writing for his high school newspaper, he majored in journalism in college, then spent more than 20 years working in sports marketing and sales. The Fort Myers resident now serves as vice president of marketing and advertising for Phelan Family Brands, getting the word out about the company’s Florida restaurants like Pinchers and Deep Lagoon Seafood.

He and his wife read to their daughters Erin, 11, and Shealah, 8, nightly, and they helped reignite his “creative fire,” says Rooney, 50. While reading some of the same stories over and over to his girls, he started changing things up and inserting a fictional character named Johnny into the action (more on him later).

Tootsee McGootsee was born over the course of family dinners. “When [the girls] would toot at the table, we would say, ‘There’s Tootsee McGootsee,’” says Rooney. “It was a playful description that we used instead of using other language. One of my daughters said I should write a story about it kind of in passing, and I took that literally.”

Writing the story was the easy part. “I’ve learned from reading to kids that things that have humor and things that rhyme, where they can predict what the next word will be, resonate with kids,” he says. “And it’s a style I embraced.”

He headed online to find an illustrator to bring his vision to life. He contacted several whose portfolios showed promise, but Joe Huffman proved the clear winner. “He really brought Tootsee McGootsee to life without a whole lot of edits,” says Rooney. “When I shared the first draft with my older daughter, she said, ‘That’s exactly what I envisioned him to look like!’” (Rooney’s already talking with Huffman about future projects.)

Rooney made a decent investment to self-publish the book, which became available in paperback on Amazon and on his website at the end of 2023. He’s working on the various steps required to make it available in more places. (He declined to disclose how much he invested on getting the book to market.) 

“I looked at publishers, but sometimes they want you to use their printer and illustrator,” he says. “Not that I wanted to have full autonomy, but being somebody who is creative, I wanted to have little bit more involvement in the process. And if that meant it took a little longer to bring it to market, I was OK with that.”

Thanks to his day job, Rooney knows how to get the word out about his new endeavor, though it’s something he needs to do bit by bit. “It requires more heavy lifting when you self-publish,” he says. 

Kevin Rooney found the illustrator for the book, Joe Huffman, in an online search.
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But right now, he’s not necessarily driven by sales. “I didn’t do it because I wanted to sell a million books,” he says. “I did it because I wanted to show my kids there’s really nothing you can’t do.”

Mission accomplished, as his older daughter asked him to write a book together. They’re currently at work on a chapter book about a fourth-grade sleuth with a mystery to solve. And that’s just one of the many ideas he has cooking: A book called “There’s a Johnny in My Story” is also coming soon. “There’s not enough time in the day to bring them all out,” he laughs.

But when he does, he’ll know more about what to expect from the process. “It’s been a learning curve of bringing the first one to market,” he says. “But that will make it that much easier for the next couple, because we’ve already gone down that road.”

Juggling a side hustle or passion project with a full-time career isn’t always easy. But after the pandemic helped illustrate for everyone just how fleeting time is, Rooney doesn’t want to wait.

“I’m not getting any younger, so there’s no time like the present,” he says. “Find those few moments whenever you possibly can. It’s never too late to chase a passion or something that you’ve always wanted to do.”

And for Rooney, that’s bringing a little bit of joy to a family’s day. “With everything that goes on in the world today, I am a firm believer that the world needs a little bit more levity and laughter,” he says. “There is nothing greater than reading a book to a kid and hearing them laugh.”



Beth Luberecki

Nokomis-based freelance writer Beth Luberecki, a Business Observer contributor, writes about business, travel and lifestyle topics for a variety of Florida and national publications. Her work has appeared in publications and on websites including Washington Post’s Express, USA Today, Florida Trend, and Learn more about her at

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