It all started 25 years ago in Chicago, Illinois. Founder and CEO of Skillets, Ross Edlund, found his passion while going to school at Northwestern University. He had his life mapped out… Get a degree in history and then he planned to go off to law school! Well, that was until he met a man that had just finished chef school and did a lot of baking for caterers. He needed some help on the side with his baking business and Ross stepped in; this is where it all began, and he knew this industry would be a part of his life.
In 1973, his new colleague started a pastry shop called, Let Them Eat Cake, and needed a partner. Ross eagerly stepped into that position. He explained, “I loved the idea of owning my own business and just being involved with the great city of Chicago. I learned that I really enjoyed working with my hands and that is where my passion lies. I wanted to be a true entrepreneur.” They grew Let Them Eat Cake into a chain of 8 bakeries, mainly in downtown Chicago.
Why did you choose to start Skillets in SWFL?
Out of all the places in the world, why does one choose Southwest Florida to start a restaurant? For Ross, it kind of just all happened naturally. He and his family were in a position where they were selling their bakery and wanted to avoid a non-compete issue. Meanwhile, they were vacationing in Marco Island for 10 days with their 2 small children. Ross said, “We drove through Naples and absolutely fell in love; maybe it was the banyan trees that did it. We ended up moving down a year later.”
They began their life in their tropical paradise and their first step was to buy a deli on Gulf Shore. Times were tough and although it didn’t survive, he never lost his passion for the industry.
After some time passed and he worked in different fields for a bit, Ross found a German restaurant on Airport Road in Naples that was a perfect site for his first venture. It started as Sunrise Café and he put his breakfast concept to work.
How has Skillets Evolved Over Time?
They opened their first store in 1999 in Bonita Springs. He wanted a high-end breakfast/lunch concept, and that is exactly what was created. They believed in no deep-fried foods, fresh ingredients, bread made from scratch on the premises, and wanted to use local ingredients as much as possible. “We want you to come in the door and enjoy the ambiance of our friendly servers, bond with our staff, and have a great meal!”
One very important aspect to this team’s success, Ross credits to his wife Noreen. “We became a “team” in 2010 and she completely revamped our dining room standards with greater professionalism through new uniforms, higher cleanliness standards, and better training. We couldn’t have done the expansion without her. She also does all the interior decorating.”
With an amazing team in place, they decided to start expanding in Florida in 2013 when they met TCG Broker, Doug Olson. They were able to secure a spot at the Pavilion in early 2013 and opened in November of that year.
The goal: Open one to two new locations a year.
In spring of 2018, they opened another location at University Village in Estero, and then expanded into Venice. They now have 9 stores that are all doing well and have a very dedicated following.
Have things changed due to the recent Pandemic?
“We are doing as well as anybody. We stayed open with curbside service when we were told to shut down inside and our key employees stayed employed.” When they could open back up to 25% capacity, they reset very well. They had a great Mother’s Day and customers responded very well to the restrictions. Since they have opened to 50% capacity, they have seen a steady increase almost daily and getting to their summer numbers as anticipated!
Where do you see your business in the next year or so?
As of now, they have no major growth plans for the next year. Like the rest of the world, they are all taking life as it comes. They are moving with the philosophy of “Take everything one day at a time. Don’t look beyond a year and see how things go!” They do plan to open in Sarasota sooner than later and after that, may start checking out some potential spots on the East Coast.
“Our goal is to keep up with the uncertain time and hoping that this virus doesn’t come around again in the fall.”
They are happy to be in SWFL during this pandemic with what are essentially built in social distancing tactics. From large parking spots to outdoor options, this is a pretty great place to be right now.
What is something you want people to know about your establishments?
When walking into an establishment for the first time, you may get a sense for who they are, the overall vibe, and obviously what the food is like. When I asked Ross what we wanted customers to know about Skillets he said, “I want them to know that we serve the highest quality breakfast in SWFL. We seek every day to achieve that. We serve great food, made from scratch. We train our cooks well and have a very low turnover because our employees like working for us. If you come here, you will be satisfied with your service and your meal!”
If you are in the mood for some an amazing breakfast or lunch, head to Skillets at one of their locations! For their menu, hours, or other details, check out their site! www.skilletsrestaurants.com