The Top 10 Things That Happened at Oysters Rock Hospitality in 2023

Welcome to 2024……..!

…a place full of possibility and pristine opportunity…where nothing could possibly go wrong…where you’ll magically become a new person, one who diets and exercises and doesn’t drink too much…doesn’t say the wrong thing…right? WRONG!

Well, I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions…for me, every day is a new opportunity to ‘get it right’ and do a little bit better for myself and for the people I care about.  Plus, where’s the fun in dieting, anyway?!?!

I’ve always tried to be very transparent with you, our guests, about everything from our mission, vision, and core values…to challenges we’re facing, like workforce shortages, supply chain issues, construction challenges, and more.

Well, in many ways, 2023 was a wonderful year full of core memories. We opened new restaurants, we invested in our people, but most of all – we learned. We learned so much more than I could have imagined: about everything from construction to wine purchasing strategies…from new technologies to new demographics…that old dogs can learn new tricks…and so much more.

We warned you that we were going pedal to the medal this year! Still, I hope that through this reflection, you share our sense of pride in that special restaurant where friends become family, your Five Star Fun destination…your nearest ORH location.

Today’s email is a bit lengthier than our usual message, but I wanted to share my top 10 highlights from the year in review…and some lessons learned along the way.

Kinda like the Christmas Newsletter you get from that annoying friend that comes across as bragging…I LOVE bragging about our restaurants, our team and our guests!

I hope you’ll share a cup of coffee or glass of wine with me 🍷 as you enjoy my memories of the Top 10 Moments in 2023 at Oysters Rock Hospitality…ORH, as we say. Cheers!

🍽️ Opening A New Restaurant At UTC

As we bid farewell to 2023, we reflect on an unforgettable journey this year, and at the height of our many achievements stands the grand opening of Anna Maria Oyster Bar at UTC. This flagship venture was a labor of love, and I’m thrilled to share some insights into the immense effort and dedication put forth by our incredible team.

Countless hours were spent meeting with contractors, landlords and designers that resulted in the spectacular interior design. The crown jewel of the restaurant is the raw bar that offers a circular view of the shucking station. Its most unique element is the ice trough that continues down the length of the bar, both inside and outside, offering the perfect space to enjoy succulent treasures from seas near and far.

A collaborative effort led by tastemakers across nearly every Oyster Bar resulted in exciting new food and drink menus that were launched at UTC and now have successfully made their way onto every AMOB table. As we approached opening day, a successful recruitment campaign was a feather in the cap of the preparation process.  Kudos to Ashley Watts on her recruiting and hiring efforts.

Ten trainers, our best front-of-house professionals from across the brand, helped teach “The AMOB Way” to dozens of new AMOB Family members. Imagine if we would have known that we would need awesome trainers in the kitchen, the heart of our house as well…seems obvious, doesn’t it! Well…did I mention, we’re learning!?!?!

Opening Day arrived and we were off to a sensational start, but no matter how hard we tried to avoid those opening “kinks” you hear about…like so many aspects of life, you don’t know what you don’t know!

Our opening team had their fair share of challenges; one example being learning to work with a physical layout that includes garage-style doors to create a very hip and trendy indoor-outdoor atmosphere that…we learned…wasn’t ideal for mid-June in southwest Florida.

We learned lots of new neighbors’ names thanks to the Greater Sarasota Chamber and the LWR Business Alliance helping us open our doors to Ranchers. For the past four months, we’ve participated in Music on Main at Main Street LWR, giving away samples of our awesome ceviche to parents…leis and glowsticks for the kids…spreading the word about our new restaurant, especially the awesome daily deals like Penny-an-Inch.

We have also learned that Lakewood Ranchers love their wine (almost as much as Amanda and I do)…UTC’s Wine Down Wednesday deal with 50% off all wine has been one of the most successful promotions in AMOB history.

So much so…that Ellenton and Cortez jumped on board with Wine Down Wednesday as well, as did Café L’Europe! Show us you want this offer at Landside and the Pier…mention that to your server on your next visit.


🦪 Rolling Out New Menus At All Of Our Oyster Bars

The next best thing this year brought our frontline teams a wave of excitement as we proudly unveiled new menu items across multiple locations—Landside, Cortez, Ellenton, and Pier.

The journey began with a successful trial run at UTC, where we meticulously tested each dish, gauging their universal appeal and fine-tuning every flavor profile.

What’s the star of the show? Universally-loved non-seafood options. We introduced crowd-pleasers like the Tropical Chicken Bowl, a burst of exotic flavors in every bite, Brussels Sprouts, a delectable twist on a classic side, and the Buffalo Chicken Salad, a spicy sensation that has quickly become a fan favorite.

For our seafood enthusiasts, we’ve gone the extra nautical mile. Embracing a heart-healthier approach, our innovative recipes include the refreshing Tuna Poke Bowl, the nutrient-packed Seafood Cobb Salad, the sweet heat of Chef Jose’s Shrimp Ceviche, the punchy Seafood Fra Diavolo, and the savory North Shore Sandwich.

Each dish is a celebration of the ocean’s bounty, carefully crafted to tantalize the taste buds while keeping a mindful eye on your well-being…and ours, too!

But that’s not all, as we’ve taken your dining experience to new heights with a captivating array of innovative cocktails that complement the tropical flavors of our updated menus. Crafting these libations was no small feat; we’ve blended unique combinations and top-shelf spirits to create a cocktail lineup that’s as refreshing as a coastal breeze.

We love sipping on the Mango Mojito…the Gypsies in the Palace pineapple-infused martini (did you all know I’m a sucker for any type of drink made of Pineapple?!)… and on weekends it’s the NEW Bloody Mary complete with a shrimp garnish.

Amanda and Robert are especially jazzed about the new wines that they painstakingly tasted with various suppliers for weeks on end…no small feat there either, and we’re all grateful for their sacrifice.Amanda’s always willing to play the role of martyr, forcing herself to taste wines, just so our guests get a nice wine option when they visit!


🥂 Opening of The Wet Bar at Café

After 4 months of construction at Café L’Europe, in late August our team prepared to open the completely reimagined bar/lounge.

But if you recall the weather events of late summer…feels like forever ago…that was when the storm surge from Hurricane Idalia flooded our beloved Anna Maria Island and St. Armands Circle. Here’s the way OUR history books will recall that challenging time:

The dictionary defines “wet bar” as an added-on area within a home or establishment, where beverages are crafted and served. It’s described as a convenient, stylish addition to any space, perfect for entertaining guests and enjoying beverages.

Our definition of “wet bar,” however, is what we discovered at Café after Hurricane Idalia swept up the coast, not 24 hours after contractors finished installing trim pieces in the beautiful room where you now sit. Because what we found was…a really…really…WET BAR.

We suspect this was the first flooding incident in Café’s 50-year history…just our luck, of course.

Yet with all that we do at Oysters Rock Hospitality, we love a feel-good story…and the story of resilience, flexibility, and rapid response shown by our team of staff and contractors during this restoration period is just the latest chapter in Café’s epic tale. Huge kudos to Christi Bock and her team at TDS Construction for being there for us all the way.

So flash flood…I mean forward…to today, and I could not be prouder to show off our brilliant new Wet Bar at Café. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watched jaws hit the floor when they step inside the new space. It’s truly a sensational destination for a cocktail or a bite.

Much like UTC’s layout, there is a row of “high top” banquettes directly facing the bar so if you’re interested in dinner, it’s a perfect place to catch all the action. With an impressive list of craft cocktails, wines and rare whiskeys and cognacs, our mixologists and wine experts can steer you towards the perfect drink for your mood or palate.

Speaking of wine lists, Wine Spectator named Café’s Wine List to their “Award of Excellence” List for the first time in a number of years. We’re proud to be earning those recognitions again for the Grande Dame of Sarasota…great job to General Manager Kevin Conway, and again, it’s a sacrifice of tasting wine, but someone has to do it!

🌟 Celebrating CLE’s 50th Anniversary

Speaking of history lessons at the Café…it was January 21st, 1973 that the iconic Café L’Europe opened its doors to welcome guests for the first time. After such an exciting and successful opening night, the staff and owners, Titus Letschert & Norbert Goldner, needed the following day to rest before re-opening again on January 23. That historical footnote makes us chuckle, having recently re-learned how important a “soft opening” can be!

Over the past 50 years, the kitchen of Café L’Europe has been a breeding ground for some of the area’s most successful chefs and restaurateurs, with menus and dishes that have stood the test of time.

All “Golden Anniversary Year” long, we celebrated the history of Chefs that have grown up inside those four walls with special Legacy Chef Wine Dinners and promotions to celebrate the history and toast to the future of Café.

Of course, the renovations have been a huge component of the acknowledging such a special milestone. I know what we are building will stand the test of the next 50 years! Plus, we need to get more mileage out of our Golden 50th Anniversary logo at the Café…you’ll probably see it for the next year to come, too. 🤩

We’ve hosted wine dinners with former Café chefs Ray Arpke and JP Knaggs…who owned Euphemia Haye and The Bijou Café, respectively. This year, we’re hoping to schedule our industry friends:

  • Harry Christensen (of Harry’s Continental Kitchen on Longboat Key)
  • Chris Covelli (Sage Restaurant and the new Bijou Café, among so many others)
  • joint dinner with Chef Bob Fracalossy and longtime GM Michael Garey, who worked together at Café for so many years, opened Café on the Bay together, and are now co-proprietors at The Lazy Lobster

You’ll want to be on the invite list to join us for the last three of these dinners, scheduled for the first half of 2024. Click here to make sure you’re subscribed!


🌊 Hospitality Industry Advocacy – on a National Stage

Okay, this one is a “two-fer”.  First, yours truly is stepping into round two as the Chair of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). Now, I didn’t see that coming, but hey, it turns out they liked the first act enough to bring me back for an encore. Grateful and excited doesn’t even cover it!

Two terms is a rare opportunity to truly make an impact on policy and process… I’m honored to continue serving the greatest industry in Florida…Hospitality! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…don’t listen to some that say there was a SNAFU and I was the only person eligible to serve as Chair in 2024.

And here’s the kicker: I’ve been chosen to represent all of us on the National Restaurant Association Board of Directors. Yep, you heard that right! Lil ol’ me…just a boy from Bartow, sitting at the table with some heavy hitters from massive international chains, trying not to spill my Margarita.

Serving on the national stage is a responsibility I do not take lightly, and I am committed to leveraging this platform to advocate for the interests and success of our industry. It’s a wild ride, and I’m beyond honored to be our voice on the national stage.

None of this would be possible without the amazing team we have at Oysters Rock Hospitality.

These responsibilities come with a demanding travel schedule – and in my absence  – the leadership team of Regional Managers, General Managers, Restaurant Managers and Home Office ensures that our restaurants never miss a beat.


👏 Promoting Two Regional Managers

Next on our countdown involves leadership changes for our Restaurant Operations team. We are delighted to share this extraordinary news that underscores the strength and talent within Oysters Rock Hospitality.

Today, we proudly announce the well-deserved promotions of two outstanding individuals who have not only shaped our restaurant’s success but have also become integral parts of our family.

As Regional Managers, Abby Elliott and Tim Bingham will be supporting our Executive Committee in taking on crucial roles overseeing operations, fostering teamwork, and ensuring our commitment to excellence continues to shine through.

Abby Elliott – Regional Manager: 

Though relatively new to our operation, Abby Elliott’s impact has been nothing short of remarkable. Starting at our Landside location, Abby worked her way up to Assistant General Manager under the tutelage of Greg Guevara.

Her leadership style, exceptional communication skills, efficiency, and results-driven mindset have made her a beloved figure among both colleagues and guests. Abby’s ability to inspire and drive positive change has not only contributed to the success of Landside, but has also showcased her potential to elevate our entire restaurant network.

Tim Bingham – Regional Manager: 

Tim’s journey with us spans an incredible 19 years, during which his dedication, expertise, and strong leadership have been instrumental in the growth of our brand. Some highlights of Tim’s Oyster Bar career include opening our Pier restaurant before taking the helm at Ellenton for several years and then going on to open UTC. His extensive experience across various roles has equipped him with a deep understanding of all our operations. He’s been a consistent source of innovation, playing a crucial role in product development and collaborating with marketing to roll out engaging promotions.

Please join us in congratulating Tim Bingham and Abby Elliott on their well-deserved promotions! We are excited about the future under their guidance and confident that their leadership will bring continued success and growth for Oysters Rock Hospitality.

💗 Banner Year For Our Shuckin’ Good Causes

This year, we took the first baby steps of registering “Shuckin’ Good Cause” as our very own 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation. We envision Shuckin’ Good Cause as the philanthropic arm of Oysters Rock Hospitality and all of our restaurants.

Shuckin’ Good Cause reflects our commitment to the vision of Oysters Rock Hospitality, which is to ensure that everyone at our table knows that they belong, and in the spirit of hospitality, that we care for one another, regardless of situation or circumstance. One of the most meaningful programs of Shuckin’ Good Cause will be an employee relief fund that is self-governed to award grants to coworkers who are having a bit of bad luck and need a helping hand through a difficult season. We hope to launch that program in 2024.

As you know, throughout the year, we raise funds for, and contribute independently to, a variety of partner organizations that are identified as “A Shuckin’ Good Cause.” Mostly local non-profits, these groups are classified into four Pillars of Philanthropy: Education and Literacy, Heroes, Affiliations, and Quality of Life.  Here are some standout memories from this year’s Shuckin’ Good Causes:

  • Tidewell Foundation Support: Our annual fundraiser contributes to compassionate care and support for community members – and their families – in a time when they need it most.
  • Pace Center for Girls – Lucky Duck Race: Sold more than $12,000 of the $100,000 of “ducks” for the organization’s annual fundraiser, AND donated the “Grandest 2nd Prize Ever,” dinner for two every week for a year (which was won by our friend and regular, Katie Dean). The mission of Pace is one of Amanda and my absolute favorites, empowering young girls to be their best and brightest selves. It always warms our hearts to know how much our team rallies around the Duck Race to support Pace as well.
  • “Shuck Cancer” Breast Cancer Awareness: Successfully raised $16,000 for the American Cancer Society and 941My Breast Friends. A huge shoutout to our team at Anna Maria Oyster Bar Landside for contributing over $13,000 to this amazing cause. Managing Partner Greg Guevara participated in Men Wear Pink, leading the charge and the team really inspired us all with their overwhelming enthusiasm for his campaign.
  • Dive Into Reading Success: Completed another impactful summer with 500+ children mentored by dedicated volunteers, program coordinators, and our restaurant operations teams.
  • Ongoing Product Donations: Continued support for numerous organizations through donations of food, gift certificates and baskets, and even exquisite wine dinners at Cafe L’Europe. These contributions raised thousands & thousands of dollars for missions of deserving organizations.

🤘 Celebrating Our Rock Stars and ROSE Awardees

In case you missed it, last year we began recognizing our team members through the “Oysters Rock Star of the Month” program.  It was a great pleasure to celebrate and honor these folks for their tireless commitment to our restaurants over Brunch at Café L’Europe for our Rock Stars every quarter.

It never ceases to amaze me how awesome our coworkers are…we are so grateful to have an awesome team that cares so much about each other, our brands, and our guests.  I’m going on 29 years of AMOB this year and I can confirm that exceptional hospitality is truly the best strategy for restaurant success, and it’s all because of folks like these.

As the chair of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association board, I was introduced to the ROSE Awards that many of the other chapters around the state host already. Of course, I felt strongly about bringing the ROSE Awards to our local FRLA Suncoast Chapter for the first time this fall. I’m inspired by the committee of local restaurateurs and hoteliers who came together to throw such a fabulous first-time event.

These awards, standing for Recognition Of Service Excellence, acknowledged 30 front-line service individuals who embody qualities such as dependability, passion, and a commitment to customer service at a fabulous event hosted by the Westin Sarasota.

Oysters Rock Hospitality celebrated a whopping EIGHT finalists, but the best news is that there were five winners selected and one was our very own, Molly G. (Landside)!!! Molly has been with us over twenty years living the dream while bartending for our guests at Landside. It’s incredible how much she does – above and beyond the call of service – for all of her guests…her friends who became AMOB Family…she truly is a Rock Star worthy of her ROSE Award, as were all of our finalists.

So honored to work with all of these Rock Stars…we take immense pride in their outstanding service to our guests. If you encounter any of these folks in our restaurants, please join us in congratulating them:

  • Molly G. (Landside)
  • Amanda R. (Home Office)
  • Christine E. (Cortez)
  • Esteban R. (Ellenton)
  • Brooke B. (Ellenton)
  • Amanda W. (Pier)
  • Tyler D. (UTC)
  • Audrey M. (UTC)

🌅 Expanding the Bridge Street Pier Complex… Ellenton Tiki, Up Next!

After many months of negotiating with our Landlord…our good friends at the City of Bradenton Beach, we have finally reached an agreement that allows our Pier Cheer satellite service station to serve visitors to the Bridge Street Pier!  This is a great benefit for those who are fishing or strolling on the Pier…or waiting for a table 😉

The City has kindly extended our alcohol license to the end of the Pier, so you can sip your ‘Rita while swinging and watching the boats float down the Intracoastal…makes for an awesome afternoon…or morning, no judgment…since you can’t drink all day, if you don’t start in the morning!

We have added additional seating for table service along the railing, with more to come, plus additional enhancements to enhance the “vacation destination” feeling of the complex.  As locals know, January is a great time to visit AMI, less traffic and easier parking, before we share our island with a few more guests during the spring season.

Plus, we’re excited about the construction on the way for our Ellenton location’s NEW tiki bar that will extend our deck seating out over the lake. It’ll be an AWESOME addition to our already-busiest location…worried about parking?

We’ve got you covered there, too: we are working with a valet company to optimize the parking lot…they estimate they can free up 20% more spaces, making your visit to our restaurants feel even more like a hassle-free vacation from the ordinary.


🎉 Hosting All The Best Parties

In a move designed to enhance your event planning needs, we are thrilled to announce the rebranding of our Events & Catering division to extend its services across all of Oysters Rock Hospitality.

This strategic expansion is a testament to our commitment to delivering exceptional moments, no matter the occasion or venue!

Heading this initiative are seasoned professionals Ashley Watts, our Event Sales Manager, and Jim Harwood, our Event Operations Manager. Both have played instrumental roles at Café L’Europe, bringing their wealth of experience to the forefront as they now spearhead event management for Landside, UTC, and North Port.

Additionally, we welcome Linda Finnerty to this dynamic team…Many of you may already be familiar with Linda from phone calls to our Home Office. Linda will orchestrate our Brand Activation Events, arranging our presence at community events such as golf tournaments, restaurant showcases, and various other gatherings.

The more often we can serve margaritas and oysters at events like these, the more future AMOB lovers we get to meet! Last year, we participated in nearly 3 dozen events…did we see you out & about?

The expansion of our Events team allows us to offer our professional event services across a broader spectrum of Oysters Rock Hospitality locations, ensuring that your celebrations, corporate events, and community engagements receive the same exceptional attention to detail and unparalleled service that you’ve come to expect from our Oyster Bars…whether you’re sitting on the deck at Ellenton or the Bridge Street Pier…the patio at Cortez or Café L’Europe…our exceptional hospitality is what you expect…and now we’ll even deliver!


✈️ Taking Flight!

Finally, one of the best things to happen in 2023 will really be happening THIS year — in case you missed it, we’re taking the flavors of the Oyster Bar to new heights as we join other local favorites like Mattison’s Grille and Patrick’s 1481 at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ).

Set to open in December 2024, we’re thrilled to be a part of the new ground boarding terminal for Allegiant. This isn’t just about expanding; it’s an opportunity to showcase the experience you love to travelers passing through SRQ.

We’re proud to be part of this initiative, bringing more local vibes to the airport and giving visitors a taste of our community. As the new terminal gears up for its grand opening, we’ll be right in the middle of the action.



Thank you for joining me on this walk down memory lane…we sure packed a lot of Five Star Fun into 2023…can’t wait for what’s to come in 2024.

All of us at Oysters Rock love and appreciate all of you       

Elvis has officially left the building labeled 2023.

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