Linda Udell Zakheim hadn't been born yet when her father opened Jaxson's Ice Cream Parlour and Restaurant in 1956.
But by the time she was in high school, Zakheim was helping out at the popular Dania Beach spot for locals and tourists alike.
As Jaxson's reaches its 60th anniversary this November, Zakheim is at the helm.
The iconic restaurant — ranked this year as the No. 1 restaurant in Dania Beach by TripAdvisor — will commemorate both its history and its future, as it positions itself for the modern era. On Nov. 5, Jaxson's is throwing a celebration open to the public from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the restaurant's parking lot. The event will include a raffle and silent auction benefiting Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood.
Zakheim, 54, said she operates the restaurant as a tribute to her father, founder Monroe Udell. "His memory is still behind every decision we make, from the menu to the decor to our staff."
Though she originally went into social work, married and raised two children, Zakheim slowly transitioned back into the ice cream business. As her father reached his waning years, Zakheim said she had a dream that she had to get more involved at Jaxson's. Udell died in 2014 at age 86.
For the past few years, she has worked closely with longtime managers Jerry Smith, Mark Arnold and Mary Nappa to make plans for Jaxson's future.
"Once they saw I put my heels in the ground and put effort into solving major issues that came up, I earned their respect," said Zakheim, who graduated with a degree in social work from Florida International University in Miami. "My social work and [home] project management skills really prepared me for this job."
Longtime family friend Nicki Grossman, who was president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau before retiring in June, said she has seen Zakheim step slowly but firmly into the leadership role.
"She's carrying on an amazing tradition for the community," Grossman said. "She doesn't let a single detail get by her. She and Jerry [Smith] are a team that I'm sure makes Monroe smile."
Those who knew him say Udell was ahead of his time on issues such as hiring black employees and raising the minimum wage paid at the restaurant. He also was into philanthropy.
Continuing the charitable legacy of Jaxson's founder, the restaurant is not only raising funds for the children's hospital during its birthday event, it also will be delivering ice cream to children and parents at Joe DiMaggio on Nov. 4, the day before its celebration.
"He felt strongly about children who need help," Smith said.
He was resistant when it came to installing point-of-sale computers. He didn't trust them, his daughter said.
But Zakheim pushed for the system, and now restaurant staffers doesn't know how they ever managed the business without it, she said.
Smith said Zakheim quickly won over the staff of 70. "It was apparent right from the start that she had the best interest of her father and the business at heart," he said.
Zakheim has been reinvesting in the business by giving the storefront a facelift with LED lights, installing the new sales terminals, replacing 40-year-old freezers, and remodeling the bathrooms. Next, the kitchen will get a redesign, she said.
The most challenging part was installing new freezers — a sticky situation. To make the ice cream, Smith had to run the ice cream to temporary freezers in the parking lot for the five-week transition period.
"It was comical," Zakheim said of Smith's sprint to the freezers for the ice cream's double-chilling process for the right consistency. "Jerry did an excellent job. We never ran out of one flavor."
The transition to the larger, more efficient freezers took a year of planning but was finally completed in April. "No customer ever knew that any of this was going on," Smith said proudly.
While there have been changes to modernize, Jaxson's maintains its traditions: the restaurant's license plate decor, photos, knickknacks and stuffed animals, and always homemade food and ice cream including the signature "Kitchen Sink," a colossal bowl of ice cream.
Zakheim is hopeful that at least one of her children, Josh, 26, or Rachel, 24, might join the family business some day. Both have graduated from Florida colleges and have expressed interest.
"Working here has changed my life for the better," Zakheim said. "I look forward to coming in every day. I have such a love for the store and the staff. I've grown so much as a woman."
For more on Jaxson's or the event, go to jaxsonsicecream.com or the Jaxson's Facebook page, or call 954-922-7605.
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