Cancer survivor and former deputy opens restaurant

A former Polk deputy and cancer survivor took his ambitions to create a brand new restaurant.

For the last week, people in Bartow have been packing into Lenny's Grill & Subs thicker than the meat they use to make their sandwiches.

"Every day we are breaking records, " owner Jim Harmer said.

Amazing when you consider Harmer was only given one year to live nearly a decade ago.

"I was diagnosed with brain cancer. No history of any cancer or brain tumors or anything," Harmer said.

While he was receiving treatments, he began to think about his life and realized that he wanted to do more than stay at the pest control business he had worked at for 22 years.  

"My goal at the time was to actually buy the pest control company," Harmer said.

Instead, he went, broke, into a career he had never even considered.

"At age 48 or 49, I went into the police academy," Harmer said.

He started as a Polk County detention deputy. Within six months he became the 2012 Detention Deputy of the Year.

"I saved an inmate who had tried to hang himself," Harmer said.

He soon transitioned to the patrol division and was selected to be a part of the crisis negotiation team. Harmer only used it once, for a man threatening to jump to his death.

"I talked to him for about 30 minutes and we got him to climb down out of the tree. It just felt real good to know that he didn't take his life like he had planned on doing," Harmer said.

But last August, Harmer had to fight for his own life again. A routine MRI detected the brain cancer was back. Harmer decided to give up the badge while he received chemotherapy.  Which is how he found Lenny's.

"It happened because of my trips over to Moffitt," Harmer said.

On a whim, he and his wife had stopped at a Lenny's off of Fletcher on his way home from a treatment. While you might say the cancer led him there, Harmer credits the Italian sub.

"I took one bite out of that Italian sub, and I jokingly said 'Man, we need one of these in Lakeland, I want to eat one of these every day,'" Harmer said.

It got to the point he would bring a cooler with him, buy several of the sandwiches, and bring them home so he could eat them all week between treatments.

"One day my wife said 'Hey, why don't you just call and see what that's all about. It says franchises available,'" Harmer said. "From that point on the ball just started rolling and I couldn't stop it."

Now in remission, Harmer and the company decided Bartow made more sense for the franchise's first location in Polk County. His mother and father both work with him to keep the store running.

"Can't say enough about Mom and Dad, because as soon as they heard about this, they were on board," Harmer said.

His mom, Josephine, arrives every morning to bake the bread and make the meatballs. His father makes the iced tea and drives to pick up supplies.

His families unwavering support is simple.

"Tomorrow may never come.  So if you don't do it today, you may never do it," Josephine said.

Her son is still serving his community. Just in a different uniform.

(© 2016 WTSP)


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