Skip Quillen, who owns five restaurants in Southwest Florida, shows gratitude to people coming in for a meal.
In some 40 years, Skip Quillen has had a wide variety of experiences in the restaurant business. In addition to studying at the Culinary Institute of America — Anthony Bourdain was a classmate and acquaintance — he trained in Switzerland and worked in Santa Barbara, Calif. and Atlantic City.
For the last 25 years he’s run Culinary Concepts, a Naples-based restaurant group that started with Pazzo! Cucina Italiana in 1995 and now has three other brands: Chops City Grill, Yabba Island Grill and the Saloon; there are two Chops locations, one in Naples, one in Bonita Springs. That experience drives Quillen’s perspective in leading the company through the pandemic. “We will building this thing back,” he says, “one brick at time.”
One of those bricks is actually a piece of paper, an appreciation letter handed to every customer. “They are our heroes,” Quillen tells Coffee Talk. “They are coming out and still supporting us.”
The note, entitled To Our Heroes, says “As restaurants across the county struggle to survive…when it seems like the whole world is against us…there are special people out there that understand restaurants are safe! They trust is with their families…and their decision.”
Quillen says the note is heartfelt, and something he hopes leads to repeat business and word-of-mouth marketing that the company cares about its customers. Business is down about 25% overall during the pandemic among the five Culinary Concepts locations.
While Quillen looks for ways to grow the business in the now, with the customer appreciation note and other marketing efforts, his bigger worry is the future. One obstacle, he projects, could be the lasting impact of COVID-19, that a vaccine might not be an instant fix. “Even when we’re out of this,” he says, “restaurants will have a psychological hurdle to overcome.”
Another concern: the seasonal economic model of many Naples eateries, to make the bulk of the year’s revenue from January through April, will be tested in 2021, Quillen says. Those crowded four months normally cover restaurants when things slow down in summer and early fall. Speaking about the entire Southwest Florida restaurant scene, Quillen says “if we don’t generate seasons like we have in the past, there will be a lot of bankruptcies next year.”