Company: In late summer 2018, Kearns Restaurant Group opened its ninth Fort Myers-area restaurant. It invested $3 million in its second The Boathouse location, a Tiki hut-style eatery on the Caloosahatchee River off State Road 31 just south of Babcock Ranch. It was a bright moment in an otherwise difficult year for the company, whose stable of eight concepts dealt with negative impacts of red tide, green algae and disruptive construction in downtown Fort Myers, among other challenges.
“It was one of our tougher summers,” says Zak Kearns, vice president of Kearns Restaurant Group, which he owns and operates with his father, Daniel. “Our revenues are still up year over year, so that’s fantastic.”
Industry: Restaurants, hotels and other aspects of the hospitality and tourism industries experienced declines this year as vacationers canceled reservations all along the Southwest Florida coast because of poor water conditions. The Kearns’ restaurants were no exception. Kearns says the biggest hits were felt by the original The Boathouse on Cape Coral because of the water, and at his Soho Social House and Firestone’s restaurants in downtown Fort Myers, because access was limited by road closures associated with the construction of Luminary Hotel and condo towers nearby.
Threats: Kearns learned this year that poor water conditions can always be a threat to business. Revenue at The Boathouse on Cape Coral was down 40% this year, he says, as the combination of red tide and green algae kept customers away, particularly boaters. The company is debt-free, he says, which helps weather such conditions.
As Kearns Restaurant Group continues expanding its Ford’s Garage concept nationwide and Capone’s Coal Fired Pizza in Florida, it also faces personnel challenges, not unlike others in the sector.
“As we continue to grow and seek new locations and develop new concepts, there are the obstacles that face growth,” says Kearns. “Maintaining consistency in the front and back of the house and hiring quality managers are critical to putting out a product we are proud of and can sustain.”