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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 3 weeks ago

Skillet sizzle: Naples breakfast chain pushes expansion program

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Skillets is expanding into the Sarasota-Manatee area.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Naples-based breakfast and lunch chain Skillets Restaurants is capitalizing on the adage, with a big appetite for expansion. 

In October, it opened a new location in Venice — its ninth total. That restaurant is part of an expansion program launched in 2017 to quickly move up the southwest coast of Florida. That comes soon after Greenwich, Conn.-based Rosser Capital Partners, in 2016, bought a majority interest in the company.

The Venice location has performed well since it opened, says CEO Ross Edlund, who founded Skillets with his wife, Noreen, in 1995. The restaurant has regularly been in the top three Skillets locations by sales and customer counts. “We feel we’re getting a lot of local traction,” Edlund tells Coffee Talk. “We love to have our customer base be mostly regulars and word of mouth.”  

Skillets has more plans for expansion in the Sarasota-Manatee area. “I really wanted to get into the Sarasota market for years,” Edlund says. “We decided we would hit Sarasota with a bang. We’re planning to do two to three locations in Sarasota in 2020.”

One of the Sarasota locations will open at Oaks Plaza near Central Sarasota Parkway in April or May. Skillets also aims to open a location in central Sarasota and one in Manatee County in 2020, with the third location possibly opening in 2021. “What I’d like to see is perhaps the Sarasota market developing like the Naples market, just on a faster timetable,” Edlund says.

Sarasota is attractive to Skillets because of similarities with Naples, including customer demographics. It's a competitive environment, with national industry leader First Watch and local chain Peach's, to name two, but Edlund thinks Skillets can set itself apart. “Even though it’s a crowded breakfast market, we feel we have a great niche,” he says. “We appeal to people who really love their food and love to eat.”

Skillets makes dishes from scratch, including making its own bread, scones and sauces. It’s also health conscious, promotes plant-based dining and doesn’t do any deep-frying. “We try to serve clean food,” Edlund says. “That’s our philosophy, and that’s how we’ve been successful in Naples.”

The chain has plans for growth beyond Sarasota as well. Edlund describes a plan to expand in a “U” shape around Florida, heading up to Tampa, over to Orlando and then down the east coast. “Certainly there’s enough just in Florida to keep us busy for the foreseeable future,” he says. “I just think Florida is a phenomenal breakfast mecca.”

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