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‘Greg’s Last Dance’ will honor Greg Koeper’s life

BRADENTON – Former Swordfish Grill Manager Greg “Grego” Koeper passed away on Feb. 22, at the age of 67.

In the early 2000s, Koeper was the owner/operator of Grego’s Almost to the Beach Tavern on Palma Sola Boulevard and that’s where his infamous NASCRAB (National Association for Safe Crab Racing at Bars) hermit crab races began.

Koeper is survived by his wife, Kathy Houck; stepdaughter, Aspen Houck; daughter, Kristin; son, Clyde; granddaughter, Cecilia (C.C.); mother, Yvonne; sister, Jan; and brothers, Chris, John and Bill. Koeper’s life and legacy will be celebrated with “Greg’s Last Dance” at the Swordfish Grill in Cortez on Saturday, March 18 from 1-5 p.m.

Koeper retired from the Swordfish Grill when he was 65 and last May he was diagnosed with melanoma, which would eventually take his life.

Houck and Koeper married on Aug. 21, 2022. March 17 would have marked their 23rd anniversary as a couple.

“We met at the Seahorse, where Slicker’s Eatery is now. Our friends Dawn Marie and Gloria decided he and I needed to meet,” Houck said.

“He died too young. He was my best friend. He lived his life to the fullest. He was happy-go-lucky and always smiling. He was caring and giving. He was good at making people feel comfortable, wanted and loved. He never met someone that didn’t leave as a friend,” Houck said.

When asked what she’ll miss the most, Houck said, “His friendship, his companionship and his smile. The whole person.”

Koeper’s daughter and son live out of state but were able to visit before his passing.
“Clyde brought C.C., so we got to spend time with them. The whole family was here in the house with us and that was nice,” Houck said.

Koeper was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard and then worked at Houlihan’s restaurant in Station Square, where he was named Pittsburgh’s #1 bartender in 1986. Koeper moved to Bradenton from New York, when his first wife was transferred to Manatee Memorial Hospital.

“He was an unbelievable human being. Everybody loved the guy,” his youngest brother, Chris Koeper, said. “We’ve lived here since 1990 and I’ve never heard one bad word about him. He was the best man I ever met. He was the most selfless human being on this planet. Before he died, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘I’m just glad this is me and not someone else I love.’”

During his time in the greater Bradenton area, Koeper explored many professions.
“He tried all kinds of different things. He used to work at an English pub on Cortez Road. Every Friday he’d dress up in a different costume and people came in to see what he was wearing,” Houck said.

Greg’s Last Dance will honor Greg Koeper’s life
Greg Koeper used to wear a different costume to work each Friday. – Kathy Houck | Submitted

At various times, Koeper worked as a maintenance man on Longboat Key and also tried his hand as a golf caddy. He also worked at Annie’s Bait & Tackle, Ace’s Lounge and the Palm Aire Country Club.

As for how the NASCRAB races began, Houck said, “He saw it at a bar in Illinois and thought it would be a good gimmick so he brought it to Grego’s Almost to the Beach Tavern. It was such a big hit. It was absolutely crazy how everybody reacted to it. It got to a point where we had to give out tickets to get a crab because people were sitting there all afternoon waiting to get one.”

Greg’s Last Dance will honor Greg Koeper’s life
Grego’s NASCRAB races became a popular attraction at the Swordfish Grill. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

After Koeper’s passing, many of his friends shared Facebook comments that referenced turn signals.

“When the tourists would come down, everyone would complain because they wouldn’t use their turn signals. Greg would end the crab races by saying peace, love and happiness. That catchphrase turned into peace, love and use your turn signals. He was trying to put that thought in their heads before they drove home,” Houck said.

The NASCRAB races later resumed at the Swordfish Grill.

Greg’s Last Dance will honor Greg Koeper’s life
Greg Koeper was the master of ceremonies for the Swordfish Grill’s NASCRAB races. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

“He loved working with everybody at the Swordfish Grill. He and Bob Slicker put together such a great team that’s carrying on that legacy. They’re doing what they watched Greg and Bob do. Greg was so proud of the kids who started working there and are now grown up,” Houck said.

Kathy Houck’s daughter, Aspen Houck, was 19 when she met Koeper.

“He loved golf. We played golf every Saturday at Pinebrook and then everybody would go to Grego’s,” Kathy Houck said.

Greg’s Last Dance will honor Greg Koeper’s life
Aspen Houck, Greg Koeper and Kathy Houck shared many memorable moments together. – Aspen Houck | Submitted

Now 43, Aspen Houck said, “Growing up, my mom and I golfed with my real dad. My dad said women don’t use the drivers and the woods. He said women can only use irons. Then Greg comes along and asks why we didn’t use our woods and drivers. He forced us to start using our drivers and woods. It turns out my mom and I are really good golfers when we can use all the clubs in our bag.

“When I was young and moving from apartment to apartment, Greg and Mom would keep my clubs at their house and Greg would carry them to the golf course from me. That became an ongoing joke. I called him ‘Dad’ and I always said, ‘Hey Dad, thanks for carrying my s—’ (expletive). That’s what I said to him the night he passed: First, I said, ‘Thanks for always being my dad when you didn’t have to be’ and ‘Thanks for always carrying my s—,’ ” Aspen Houck said.

“One of his sayings was, ‘Fun is key.’ He taught me not to jump to conclusions and to always try to be a better person,” she added.

Slicker owns and operates Slicker’s Eatery in Cortez. Before that, he was the general manager of the Swordfish Grill. He knew Koeper for 30 years.

“Greg and Kathy have been to every major event in my daughter Molly’s life – her wedding and every dance recital, baseball game and basketball game. She looks at them as Uncle Greg and Aunt Kathy,” Slicker said.

Greg’s Last Dance will honor Greg Koeper’s life
Greg “Grego” Koeper and Bob Slicker were friends for 30 years. – Submitted

“I cooked for Greg at Grego’s. I brought Greg to the Swordfish Grill in 2012 or 2013. He was the first person I hired. I hired him to do the crab races once a week and he ended up being a manager and working there full-time.

“Greg had a way of making people feel special. He was all-in on every conversation and every moment of life. He gave love and never passed judgment. Greg didn’t hold grudges and he realized the value of every day. He always said, ‘Kindness is key.’ He taught me to always be kind and he taught me by example. He also taught me how to get on stage with a microphone. He taught me that it’s okay to make fun of yourself, but it’s not okay to make fun of other people,” Slicker said.

Greg’s Last Dance will honor Greg Koeper’s life
Dressed as an elf, Greg Koeper assisted Santa during the Swordfish Grill Christmas parties that benefited underprivileged youngsters. – Submitted

Current Swordfish Grill General Manager Adam Sears worked with Koeper for many years.
“He was selfless. He was a very humble guy and he never wanted any recognition for what he did. He was always willing to help with the Blessing Bags Project charity events, the kids’ Christmas parties and the Nancy Franklin golf tournaments. He had a carefree attitude and he was always in a good mood. He used to say ‘groovy’ all the time and he was the grooviest dude I ever met,” Sears said.


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