400 South Collier Blvd , Marco
Most of us have learned about the food chain, and we’re also aware of ubiquitous restaurant chains dotting the land, but here we have the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort Golf Club and Spa that boasts the largest chain of food-related places on the island with five full service restaurants within its nine food outlets with six separate kitchens under one resort umbrella. Numbers do matter when it relates to restaurants, and curiosity about what it takes to run a show that big is what motivated your Eagle reporter to drag that chain of thought up to the (ahem) linchpin and initiate a conversation with the Marco Island Marriott Resort’s Food and Beverage Director Steve Lipschutz, the man who’s been there, done that for 21 years with Marriott including the 10 years here in the Island’s grandest resort.
“This is my third (Marriott) property, Atlanta was my first: When I got here we were doing renovations -- to me it got really exciting like opening a new hotel every year or a new restaurant. Currently, it’s our new lobby bar — Korals — opening Sept. 25,” Lipschutz said, adding that the trendy new bar will be three times the size of the present one, and will also have its own sushi chef.
“Another unique feature of Korals is the new food elevator we’re installing in the bar to bring up food from the kitchen downstairs such as favorite signature appetizers like our heirloom tomato salad and crab cakes. The sushi bar will be an open one and the sushi chef can be seen rolling the sushi right there for all the different outlets, but it will also tie in with another service we can offer our guests.
“The resort’s administrative offices used to occupy the space where Korals is being created so we were moved here to the other end of the building,” Lipschutz remarked, leaning back in his chair and waving a hand around toward a window overlooking a landscape filled with palms and tropical foliage by the corner of the building. “When I was a boy I literally grew up in the business. My father had a delicatessen on 86th and Madison Avenue (Manhattan) that had been there for 30 years. Now think about it — that’s spanning two generations, grandfather, father and uncle — where now restaurants open and close within a few months.
“I used to go in and pretend to work — I got the bug at an early age. It was not only a 150-seat restaurant, but it also had a big take-out and deli counter with the lox, smoked fish and our own baker. It’s where I realized that I really love food and carried that enthusiasm and passion for food in me on to college and earned my master’s degree.” Lipschutz related, adding that the family sold the business in 1975 and moved to Florida and there they had the food and beverage concession in a Hilton Hotel on the corner of Hallandale Beach Boulevard that’s now owned by another hotel chain.
“”Working in a kitchen behind the scenes was really intense in my culinary training back of the house — from Garde-Manger (pantry supervisor) to butchering. We used 2 to 2 1/2 pound chickens to get the breast out and used the remainder for stock. A lot of that stuff I learned is now old fashioned, making stock peaked in the early ’70s, and now I think it’s come full circle. Equally, there’s been an increase in the interest of making everything from scratch that will help the restaurant business indirectly because restaurants will become knowledgeable and develop an interest in gourmet food: People go out to eat and they’re expecting that quality in a restaurant.”
On the downside, all the extra work took a toll on wages for the reason that he had to increase staff because now they were dicing and slicing everything in the kitchen, Lipschutz said. “Incidentally we have a little — well, maybe not so little — city down below on our ground floor with six kitchens all under my direction and our executive chef Charles Albanos. We’re also the United Nations with people from all over and not only culinary but also our servers. We’ve created careers for hundreds of fine back of the house associates. Here’s an instance — Reda Emam, presently our front of the house restaurant manager. He did three internships with us, starting as an intern in various, hourly restaurant positions.
“We try to promote in house as often as merited, from associates to managers and mangers to department heads. That’s our first priority and why it definitely helped evolve our food and beverage department, front and back of the house, into one of the finest food and beverage operations within the company during my 10 years here. Quinn’s, for instance, was basically a cafeteria line with some table service doing $3.5M in sales. When we went to full service, closed in the kitchen and re-did the menu that generated $6.2M and came close to doubling our sales and created the epitome beach restaurant on Marco Island!”
Earlier, sometime during 2002, Tropix and Kurrents were re-invented, actually flipped in adjacent restaurant spaces formerly occupied by Café del Sol and Tuscany, while the real estate Voyager formerly sat on became the site for constructing Marriott’s state of the art spa, Lipschutz related, adding he couldn’t immediately recall the dates and quickly got up from his chair behind the desk and invited me to walk over to Quinn’s.
“But, I’ll always remember Quinn’s, it opened on March 10, 2002. We were smack in the middle of season, new associates, new everything and not a lot of time to get ramped up and give us time to get used to our new facility,” he said, adding that he called ahead to Quinn’s as we rode down the elevator and emerged outside and continued past the pool to Quinn’s where Department Manager Bianca O’Neil waited on the patio greet us.
“When March 10 comes up it always triggers a memory for my restaurant,” Lipschutz related as we sat down on the very comfortable armchairs on a shady patio that had an unobstructed view of Gulf waters sparkling in the sun.
“We were swamped that first day with 600 covers (meals served). Bianca and I still exchange a smile on that date remembering how hard the entire team worked to open the restaurant and take off with 600 meals! Now we do 1,700 meals a day during season. What used to seem impossible is now easy.” Lipschutz said, and Bianca nodded adding, ”Yes, I started here in 1990 and one of the highlights of my career was becoming part of the team with Steve that created Tropix that opened in April 2002. Then Quinn’s was on the horizon and was thrilled to be part of that too.”
While we walked back to Steve’s office he confided that he was really looking forward to opening Korals on Sept. 25, so I inquired if he still had a soft spot for Quinn’s?
“Yes, but I do with all my restaurants, but if it does seem that way it’s because the sheer volume we do at Quinn’s makes you reflect on what teamwork can accomplish!”