Buddy Foy believes state authorities gave him the proverbial finger when it comes to doing business there during the pandemic. Florida, on the other hand, raised another finger: thumbs up.
When now Sen. Rick Scott was governor of Florida, he famously cold-called executives in Cleveland, Chicago and New York on blustery winter days. The pitch was simple: Ditch the Midwest and Northeast, and come down to Florida, where the weather is nice, and state taxes are nil.
Unknowingly, Gov. Ron DeSantis has recently landed a different pitch, with similar results: He’s been touting Florida has a state that’s handled the pandemic well — at least in terms of the economy, and not shutting down or curtailing wide swaths of businesses. Although other parts of Florida’s handling of the crisis have come under criticism, on the economy, when compared to other large-population states, especially New York and California, Florida is a boomtown. (One big example: Disneyland in California has yet to reopen, while Disney World in Orlando has been open, with reduced crowds, since July.)
The open-for-business tone in DeSantis’ press conferences and statements resonated with New York restaurateur and entrepreneur Buddy Foy Jr., star of the new Food Network TV show Summer Rush. Foy’s French-inspired Chateau by the Lake, in upstate Lake George, had been struggling under what Foy calls arbitrary restaurant capacity rules imposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. After surviving the summer — where he spent some $90,000 to retrofit the eatery for pandemic rules — business in the early fall took a big hit. When indoor dining was banned in New York, Foy says restaurants were only given 24 hours notice to comply.
“That night we saw Ron DeSantis on TV, and he said every job is essential, and we’re not just going to shut down like some other states,” Foy says. “I looked at my wife and said let’s go. Let’s go to Florida.”
Foy, with some family in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, including his brother Keith, an executive with Ashley Furniture, turned that comment into a full-fledged southern migration. In late December he, along with his wife, Jennifer, and other family members and partners, opened The Chateau Anna Maria. It’s in the former Eliza Ann’s Coastal Kitchen space inside Waterline Marina Resort on Anna Maria Island. The opening follows a whirlwind 60 days, where Foy scouted locations, courted investors and met — via video calls — with the executives of Mainsail Lodging & Development, which operates the resort. Foy, with Keith leading the way, looked into two other turnkey-style restaurant opportunities.
Although Foy’s case is noteworthy because of the speed of the move, his TV notoriety and his outspokenness about New York’s pandemic rules, it’s not necessarily an outlier. Multiple reports, backed by anecdotal evidence from scores of area real estate brokers, show that the New York-to-Florida pipeline is gushing. And the bitterness is palpable. “I feel like my personal property rights have been infringed. I’m just a blue-collar guy — I just want to go to work,” Foy says. “My issue wasn’t political. It was leadership, and what was going down in New York was really scaring the shit out of me.”
Although he won’t be totally closing Chateau by the Lake, he does plan to convert it into a seasonal operation, going Memorial Day to Columbus Day. And when Foy made the decision to move to Florida, he also canceled expansion plans in the works to open four more Empire State locations, in Albany and Saratoga. “I called my partners up and said, ‘Gents, I’m pulling the plug,’” Foy says. “I will never open up a restaurant in New York.”
‘I feel like my personal property rights have been infringed. I’m just a blue-collar guy — I just want to go to work.’ Buddy Foy.
Similar to the one in New York, the Anna Maria Chateau concept is French-inspired cuisine in an elegant atmosphere. The first three weeks of business at the Waterline were strong, Foy says, with a slight dip after the holidays. Initially, 14 employees made the move from New York to Florida to follow Foy, a figure that’s since grown to some 25 people. Foy has also been chatting up Florida’s more open economy, friendlier people and lack of state income taxes to his entrepreneur friends and chefs up north. “I’m all in on Florida,” he says. “I’m totally in.”