Growing Gecko’s On Friendship, Values and a Lucky Lizard
A gecko is considered a good luck lizard. Perhaps this reptilian symbol on the façade and in menus of every Gecko’s Grill & Pub in town has had magical good fortune on this locally born and burgeoning chain of upscale grill & pubs.
Maybe, more than luck, it’s the hard work, collaboration and imagination of Gecko’s’ owners Mike Gowan and Mike Quillen, known as “Mike and Mike,” that has this restaurant evolving into one of the area’s most successful local chains.
Mike and Mike have been friends since eighth grade. Both worked in the restaurant business and came up with the Gecko’s idea after visiting Quillen’s dad’s restaurant Monkey’s Uncle in Jacksonville.
“We’re like the odd couple,” Gowan says, as he focuses on the operations, money and systems, and Quillen brings in the new ideas and creative and travels around the country to bring in the latest and greatest food and hospitality concepts.
Launched in 1992, Gecko’s opened its first location at The Landings in south Sarasota where it became a hot spot for drinking, meeting and watching sports. While that model features 80% liquor sales, 20% food, the rest of the locations expanded to focus on an upscale food twist.
“Our food is so much different than what typical sports bars offer,” says Quillen. “We have over 90 menu items and that keeps people coming back.”
They’ve partnered with local growers for fresh produce and get grass fed bison to ‘keep it green.’ An extensive selection of items plus daily specials makes Gecko’s nearly impossible to duplicate.
The Gecko’s mission is to provide exceptional hospitality and fresh local fare with a gourmet twist, and a menu that is accessible to everyone (ie. reasonable prices). Since the Landings opening in 1992, the home grown chain now has locations at SR 70, SR 64, Clark Road, Hillview Street and its newest location on Fruitville Road. We focused on slow growth,” Gowan says. “And we have more managers than any other chain. We spend a lot of time in our stores and listen.”
Gecko’s has been consistently awarded and honored with “Best of The Best” awards, including Best Happy Hour, Best Sports Bar, Best New Restaurant, Best Burger, Best Fries, Best Wings, Best Ribs, Best Take Away, Best Dinner Under $10, Coldest Beer, Best Lunch, Taste of Sarasota People’s Choice Awards, Best Entrée, and Best Appetizers.
Gowan and Quillen believe the true key to their success lies in the way they treat their staff, customers and community. “We have a five day work week and three weeks vacation. And our staff appreciates the involvement in the community,” Gowan says.
Gecko’s supports a number of charities including law enforcement, youth, 4H, and the YMCA to name a few. Their aim is to inspire other restaurateurs to get or stay involved in their local communities. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation honored Gecko’s by selecting it as a Florida Restaurant Neighbor Award Winner in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Biz941 Magazine awarded Gecko’s Hospitality Group with the inaugural Greater Good Award for the Hospitality industry, recognizing those businesses who act upon their belief that they have an obligation to help the community.
The foundation of Gecko’s was built on friendship and remains a central tenant of how Mike and Mike run the business, welcoming longtime friends and making new ones daily. “We made friends at the Landings and are now hiring their kids,” Gowan says.
Think of a friendly place like Cheers with an awesome menu, plenty of flat screens to watch, and a manager greeting you as you dine. Not to mention 2 for 1 happy hour all day and night. The Gecko’s motto: ‘you can’t buy friends but you can find them at Gecko’s…eat, drink and be merry.’ Or if the lucky gecko has its say, ‘get lucky at Gecko’s.’ The odds are good you’ll have a positive experience.
Gecko’s accommodates banquets and private parties as well as offsite catering. Visit the restaurants for an extraordinary experience in fare and service, order something great and inexpensive to go, or visit the website at www.geckosgrill.com for more information.
photo by Patti Pearson