When the sun is shining and you’re sitting in a restaurant on the Intracoastal, it’s easy to be an optimist about things. Even the Miami Dolphins.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Kim Bokamper says of the 2015 Dolphins season. “I’m ever the optimist. I’ve been burned for it before, but I’m an optimist.”
The former Dolphin, restaurateur and media personality has reason to be optimistic – and not just about the team he’s either played for or covered since the mid-1970s. He’s not just sitting in any Intracoastal restaurant, he’s sitting in the Intracoastal restaurant that bears his name. This location, at the northeast corner of the Oakland Park Boulevard Bridge, is one of five Bokampers Sports Bar and Grills. (There are two other Broward locations, Plantation and Miramar, and two on Florida’s west coast in Naples and Estero.)
Next year will mark Bokamper’s 40th in South Florida, and the steady stream of customers wanting to shake his hand and say a quick hello attests to the recognition he’s built up over that time. Although he chuckles at the notion that he’s a big name.
“People say to me ‘you’re famous,’” Bokamper says. “I say I’m familiar, not famous.”
But if he’s reluctant to blow his own horn, he’s quicker to praise his home. He’s a Broward guy.
“When I got here in 1976 I lived in an apartment in Miami for the first six months,” he says. “I’ve been in Fort Lauderdale ever since.”
Looking out over the water, he remembers one of the first times he came to Fort Lauderdale. It’s a familiar Lauderdale story – he was taken out on a boat, and he decided this might be the place for him.
“There are very few places that have this,” he says.
Bokamper grew up in northern California and attended San Jose State, where he starred on the Spartans’ defense. The Dolphins took him with the 19th pick in the first round of the 1976 NFL draft. In the following nine years he would establish himself as one of the leaders on what would become one of the best defenses in the NFL. This was the era of the Killer Bs, the defense that helped the Dolphins get to two 1980s Super Bowls and that got its name because at one point, six of 11 starters had a name beginning with the letter “b.” Bokamper stayed in South Florida after his retirement in 1985, becoming a prominent local sports commentator while living in Broward and raising two daughters with his wife, Colleen.
In 2014, Colleen died after a battle with cancer. Since then he has scaled back on his media work, retiring from WFOR-Ch.4. During the football season, he still does Dolphins coverage.
Bokamper also stays busy with his restaurants. When he and several partners got into the restaurant business seven years ago with the Plantation location, he wasn’t interested in simply being a former athlete who lends his name to a place and has minimal input into how it’s run. He describes himself as an active partner in Bokampers.
It’s one more challenge. And he likes those.
“Everyone says it’s the hardest business,” he says. “I say, show me an easy business.”
He’s bullish on the restaurant business in general and the Fort Lauderdale location specifically. Just east of it off A1A sits the collection of shops, bars and restaurants that includes places such as Blue Jean Blues, 33rd & Dine and the Dive Bar. It’s a lively little spot, but the waterfront side of the area has lost most of its long-established, popular restaurants and bars. Of the old mainstays on that stretch of Intracoastal, only Shooters remains.
When they were looking at Fort Lauderdale locations, Bokamper was drawn to the spot – and the same vibe that first drew him in the ’70s. He hopes the restaurant and bar, which recently became Water Taxi’s northernmost spot, will bring in more people not just to Bokampers, but to the surrounding bars and cafes. He’s not worried about competition; he wants to create something in the neighborhood.
“There’s enough people to go around,” he says. Basically, he’s an optimist.
Which brings us back to those Dolphins.
“I feel like (quarterback) Ryan Tannehill is coming into his own,” Bokamper says. “And they’ve gone and signed one of the best defensive players of the last 10 years in Ndamukong Suh.
OK then, prediction time. Playoffs?
As the lunch crowd builds and another patron walks past and says hello, Bokamper smiles.