by Jacob Ogles, SRQ Magazine
Mike Quillen and Mike Gowan met each other in eighth grade, forging a lifelong friendship but also laying the groundwork for a business partnership that would prove bountiful for decades. Last week, the pair were named among the inaugural class of winners for the first-ever SRQ Media Group Localpreneurs of the Year.
“I was born in Sarasota, and it’s a great and satisfying thing to be recognized,” Gowan says. Quillen added, “It’s just great to be a part of a local community of entrepreneurs in the community where my partner and I both grew up.”
The two now run Gecko’s Hospitality Group, the company behind not only the locations for Gecko’s Grill & Pub but also Smacks Burgers & Shakes, Dry Dock Waterfront Grill and Dockside Waterfront Grill. The company’s first location opened at the Landings in 1992, where Quillen and Gowan, both experienced bartenders, served drinks themselves. That locale quickly grew from a 30-seat bat to a 300-seat restaurant on Fruitville and Stickney. Smacks joined the company’s offerings in 2013, while Dry Dock was acquired in 2015 and Dockside in 2016 became part of GHG family. Most recently, the Red Barn Bar became part of the company’s offerings.
It’s no coincidence the word “hospitality” is part of the restaurant group’s name. Exceptional hospitality, along with fresh and locally sourced food with a gourmet twist, remains part of the company’s mission. The business partners with Honeyside Farms to supply produce and fruit, with Three Suns Ranch for quality bison and with Dakin Dairy Farm for dairy products at all Gecko’s locations.
Today, Gowan says the company has grown to about 600 people and continues to cultivate ideas from its junior management team. The team boasts of a corporate culture that “invites authentic involvement, encourages participation and is based on genuine care and sharing.”
Beyond the company, Quillen and Gowan see value in improving the affordable housing stock and improving comprehensive planning for the region. “We have a good education system but we need to make better,” Quillen says, “and we need to get the folkswho we educate to stay here in Florida, particularly stay in this community.”