Menus with a Mission: Gecko’s Hospitality Group promotes local farms and seasonal fare

Menus with a Mission: The Gecko’s Hospitality Group promotes local farms and seasonal fare

by Abby Weingarten, Edible Sarasota

Growing sustainable partnerships with local farms is a hallmark of the Gecko’s Hospitality Group, and the weekly menus at their numerous restaurants reflect the mission.

There is a bit of Sarasota goodness in every facet of Mike Gowan and Mike Quillen’s business approach—from incorporating home-grown ingredients into the inventory to paying homage to area heroes through specials and promotions.

“We try to keep our message of locally sourcing current, relevant, and authentic with our guests, strengthen local partnerships with farms and businesses, and give our chefs the creative license they crave to plan their awesome weekly special menus,” Gowan and Quillen say.

The proprietors of multiple area hot spots (Gecko’s Grill & Pub, Smacks Burgers & Shakes, Dry Dock Waterfront Grill, Dockside Waterfront Grill, and Red Barn Bar), Gowan and Quillen began carving out their presence in the culinary scene in 1992, and their group currently employs more than 650 Floridians.

Gowan and Quillen buy a plethora of produce from Sarasota’s Honeyside Farms for their eateries, including squash, zucchini, golden grape tomatoes, romaine lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, shishito peppers, kale, and strawberries.

“Each year, we plan what crops will be planted, the quantities, and whether anything will be new or experimental,” say Gowan and Quillen, who are now in their ninth growing season with their farm partner.

Honeyside’s wildflower honey, which is 100 percent raw, is especially in demand.

“Honeyside’s sustainable farm practices provide the freshest produce to the surrounding local community by selling what they grow right on the farm without the use of chemical pesticides,” Gowan and Quillen say. “We are on a constant quest to ensure that the products we offer our guests are the tastiest and the best.”

To give their guests even more, the restaurateurs recently launched a 1,850-square-foot catering facility (Signature Events & Catering) at their Gecko’s location in The Landings, which will seat 150 guests, and host various professional and social events. The owners are consistently finding ways to be purveyors of top-quality food as well as being community pillars.

“We strive to be fresher, more nutritional, and greener, all while supporting our local economy and our local heroes,” Gowan and Quillen say.

In that spirit, The Shark Lady cocktail at Gecko’s is a hat-tip to one of Sarasota’s most revered organizations: Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.

“This is something near and dear to our hearts. The story behind The Shark Lady philanthropic cocktail started last summer. We were in the midst of red tide,” Gowan and Quillen say. “For locals like us, red tide was not new but it was especially devastating. We knew we wanted to do something to bring attention to the valuable work that our world-class independent marine research laboratory was doing every day, not just when we were all aware of their work because of the crisis.”

So they decided to do something to remind the locals that Mote was the “rising tide” in algal bloom research.

“Our goal was to create something long-lasting like the sea—something that was beautiful and appealing like our precious coastal waters—with a purpose, to honor the scientific research of Mote,” Gowan and Quillen say. It is named after an unforgettable scientist and force of nature in her own right: Sarasota’s own Dr. Eugenie Clark, shark expert, world-renowned ichthyologist, and Mote founder.

This is what makes Gowan, Quillen, and the entire Gecko’s Hospitality Group so authentic: the commitment to bolstering the community through partnerships and perseverance, in both the best and the toughest of times.

Pictured: Mike Gowan, Tiffany Bispham, Mike Quillen and PJ Bispham/photo by Peter Acker