The organ will definitely be a thing of the past when Robert Toale & Sons hosts an open house for its new 7,000 square foot Celebration of Life Center at Lakewood Ranch.
These heavy, deep and somewhat depressing tones will give way to the rock and blues of the popular regional group, Kettle of Fish. Those who visit will be treated to craft beer, spirits and barbecue. The party is on.
Jeff Toale, vice president of business development, said this is an exciting start for a modern funeral home concept that will become the first of its kind at Lakewood Ranch.
It’s also the first of its kind that was built from the ground up for Robert Toale & Sons, who split four years ago from Toale Brothers Funeral Homes to join Dignity Memorial and take on a new direction. Robert Toale & Sons has three other locations – two in Sarasota and one in Bradenton – but these existing buildings have been transformed into a new concept.
This one was built with the new image in mind.
Owner Robert Toale said he heard about other funeral homes switching to a “celebration of life” offering and thought, “What are they doing?”
But after seeing the shift to the “celebration of life” concept from traditional services, he decided this was the way to go.
“That’s what people want,” he said. “It was about seeing so many happy people.”
The Lakewood Ranch building, at 4310 Solutions Lane, has high ceilings and lots of natural light. All modern electronic gadgets and audio systems allow customers to design a service in any way they choose. The Celebration of Life Center’s largest hall for a celebration is filled with round tables (if necessary), encouraging visitors to mingle and tell stories. Thumbnail spaces allow families to display objects that tell every aspect of their loved one’s story.
And while this story is being told, the new center will have catering capabilities so people can enjoy food on site.
“People can celebrate a life, and food is a big part of that,” Robert Toale said.
Jeff Toale said those who visit the open house will notice the changes immediately.
“Everyone knows what an old funeral home looks like,” he said.
Although the Celebration of Life Center opened its month, Jeff Toale said his intention was to present the building to the public with a bang, once construction is complete, contemporary furnishings are installed, and media features are online.
“I felt like we had something special here,” he said. “It’s a different feeling all together.”
Although it’s a different feel, Jeff Toale pointed out that Robert Toale & Sons will have the ability to offer any type of service clients desire. If a more traditional service is desired, the building has the space to meet these demands.
“We are doing a lot more cremation now (no cremation will take place at the Lakewood Ranch site), but there are still a lot of burials going on,” Jeff Toale said. “We can offer a more traditional service, or we can incorporate the celebration of life aspect, present uplifting service, offer tributes and catering, and more. We can create it however the family wishes. We love think we are at the cutting edge of modern funeral service.”
The location will also increase in visibility over the next few years as work is completed on 44th Avenue and connects West Bradenton to Lakewood Ranch.
“It will be a major thoroughfare,” Jeff Toale said of their decision to build just off 44th Avenue. “And Lakewood Ranch is a great place.”
Although the appearance of the Celebration of Life Center is different, Jeff Toale said the work ethic required to run a funeral home remains. He said that although the hours listed for the center are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, the phones are monitored 24/7.
“One of us is always available,” he said. “Even in the middle of the night.”
He said his father’s work ethic made him want to get into the business.
“There was something to be said about working for my dad,” he said. “When people were struggling at the most difficult time in their lives, I saw him having an impact. It’s a challenge to move forward when people want to move back. Grieving can be an interesting thing. My dad’s attitude has always been ‘We’ I’m here to help you.’ It’s my state of mind.”
Now all that remains is to find out everything about their new home.
“We’re still trying to figure out where the switches are,” Jeff Toale said.
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