Dennis Klee founded Harmonious Monk's in Jacksonville's Mandarin area in 1995. Now he runs Klee's Music in Julington Creek.
He was born in upstate New York, and, as many of his family members did, he went to Notre Dame for college. He was also a musician, though that’s not what he studied.
“I knew that for me, music was always going to be my life. My idea was to work for two or three years in the corporate world, save up enough money to buy a multi-track recording studio, and then make my own records,” he says. “I went to work with a restaurant chain and learned the corporate management of restaurants. I saved up the money, bought the studio and for the next six years, I recorded my own songs, multi-tracking my own albums.”
Klee recorded his first album with his brother, who was also his partner in a touring band. He recorded a second album by himself, playing all instruments and singing all parts. He developed a solo act that gave him the idea to do something different.
“I was doing a stage show where there was a lot of audience involvement, doing all the vocals and playing all the background tracks on tape,” he says. “I did so well, the owner sat me down and said, ‘I can’t pay you any more. You’re making more money than I am, and if you think this is so easy, go do it yourself.’”
Klee decided to do just that, to start his own entertainment-based restaurant, with a singing wait staff and multi-tracked accompaniment, all of which he’d produce and lead.
“My wife and I went on trips to see where we wanted to be. This was 1994, and the Jaguars were coming to Jacksonville. We came and visited, and we loved it. The local clubs had nothing like what I was doing, so I opened Harmonious Monks in 1995. We had great success, all by word of mouth. We opened in Neptune Beach in 1997 and in Casselberry in 1998,” he says.
But over time, running three restaurants — one of them in the Orlando area — took its toll.
“I was spread so thin it was ridiculous. I closed the two at the beach and in Central Florida, but ran the restaurant in Mandarin for 19 years. I sold it to a company from Central Florida, did well on the sale, and took some time off to decide what my next move would be,” he says.
That was two years ago. Klee decided to open a music store. Klee’s Music, in Julington Creek, sells and leases instruments, offers teaching rooms and soon will have a recording studio. He says the store reconnects him to what he loves most about music and keeps him out of what he liked least about the business.
“This is a much more sane lifestyle. I’m not in the store at 4 in the morning, kicking drunks out, and going over credit card slips that don’t match. In the 19 years that I ran Harmonious Monks, I never wrote a song. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get back to that soon,” he says.