On People, Places and Fun…….
We arrived at sunset on a Wednesday and the water off the Swordfish Grill deck was full of wading birds, pelicans and we even spotted a Roseate Spoonbill! A picture perfect setting. As I waited for Bob Slicker, the GM to arrive (I’d never met him), a man with a silly straw hat and ear-to-ear grin showed up…”Patti?” he asked. “Bob?!”
I said in disbelief…wasn’t exactly the look I was expecting in a GM. We laughed then and pretty much the rest of the interview and dinner.
Bob had just held his Wednesday night drawing for freebies and was the standing comic for the night – hence, the goofy hat. In fact, “Slicker Night” as some call it is held every Wednesday around early bird hours and Bob has a different theme every time, dressing accordingly.
“I’ve been Rainman, Forest Gump, Willie Nelson, Dean Martin, a Cortez Fisherman, and all kinds of things,” he said. “I tell a couple silly jokes and then we have the raffle…I just love to have fun.”
His raffle prizes are silly too, like a candlelight dinner for two consisting of a Dollar Store Candle and Spambalaya. Some are lottery tickets. But one never knows. It’s one of many unusual antics you’ll experience at Swordfish in addition to the fun and frolic served up on the outdoor deck with live music and Bob’s popping by to razz you a bit.
“I love my job,” he said more than once, with that perpetual, bright smile he has on his face and infectious laugh.
“The thing that stands out to me is Bob’s focus on his team,” Teresa, a visitor from Maryland said. “He’s all about people, and was so generous…and I love his laugh. The food is fantastic, but the mood and Bob’s sense of humor really was the icing on the cake.”
I’m guessing not long ago, Bob’s smile wasn’t quite as bright. You see, he got hit over the head with a full vodka bottle while working at another establishment and lost his short term memory. Months later, he was struggling to find work he could do. Swordfish was losing ground and reputation. And Bob was asked to join the team at the restaurant, first as a bartender, then, as he got better, he quickly worked up to GM. He and the restaurant went through the healing process together and today…
“We’ve gone from the worst to first,” Bob says, as the restaurant has won Best Seafood Restaurant two years in a row by The Islander. “We’ve doubled our sales this year, too.”
He claims he first focused on improving the food quality. Then it was all about team building, which seems to be his natural born talent. Peggy, the floor manager and former server, stopped by and told us how Bob used to stop by her tables with a straight face and tell her customers “she really doesn’t work here…” Perplexed, the customers eventually caught on, and that set the stage for the inherent lively mood at the Swordfish.
Most of us know running a restaurant is a tough gig – long hours and myriad tasks to juggle. To turn one around in two years, it must have taken hard work, which Bob doesn’t seem to be a stranger to. He still thinks it’s fun though, pretty much like the rest of his life’s adventures.
Going back a ways, after Bob studied Personnel Management and Political Science at Adrian College in his home state of Michigan, he took his first ‘real job’ as a Wendy’s manager in New Orleans as he was gathering interviewing practice for school. They offered him a manager position immediately, which isn’t common, and he said he’d take it but promised himself it’d be a two-year stint. He ended up with his own store.
“I was making $16,800 a year and thought I was rollin’ in the dough,” he exclaimed.
A free spirit, Bob hiked the Appalachian Trail for eight months. Took up rock climbing in Boston where he worked at a buddy’s restaurant and learned full service dining skills. Then, a couple years later, a friend from Anna Maria Island told him there were ‘beaches and girls’ here…and so he came and never left.
Friends and people seem to be Bob’s main topics of conversation, as he brags on his ‘team’ at the Swordfish and all the customers and people in the community “that have been so supportive and lived through the changes” Bob said.
“I have a phenomenal team and I help them wherever I can,” he said. He teaches money management skills and more as he sets his sights on success, not only for the restaurant, but for his team members. And he supports the community with food drives and more, this year donating more than $50,000 to assorted causes.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” is one of Bob’s favorite mottos. And changes are a constant at Swordfish. Bob shared his list of past and upcoming improvements, most recently in seating and décor. He’s rearranged walls, bought new bar stools, is getting new flooring and chairs for the dining room and wants to build a permanent cover over the outside deck to allow vinyl drop downs and heat during the winter months to expand seating capacity. “One thing at a time though,” Bob says.
It was packed that night with a half-hour wait at only 6 p.m., probably due to the raffle that everyone seems to know about. Other ‘Bob Slicker Antics’ keeping it fun are the hermit crab races – named NASCRAB (national association of crab racing at bars) – on Monday nights. And every third Sunday a New Orleans crawfish boil and rowdy band.
Lighter bands and individual musicians are showcased every night on the deck (or inside during inclement weather) so dancing is always welcome.
Our meal started with laughter, continued with Bob’s funny stories, and we gorged ourselves with stone crab, chowder and the best fresh grouper ever. Bob’s mom stopped by to say ‘hello’ and asked us if we ‘wanted the real Bob stories…’
“I get my craziness from my Mom,” Bob said proudly.
Bob’s wife Julie works at the restaurant and their three grown children are in their careers. “I’m blessed,” he said of his wife and family and friends.
Check out Swordfish Grill & Tiki on Facebook or at www.swordfishgrillcortez.com or call 798-2035. You can be certain this dining experience will be an experience. It’s the Slicker way.
Photos by Patti Pearson & The Sarasota Post