Boom times to Ray Arpke means his restaurant, especially the second-floor bar/dessert area, is so packed he must walk around the outside to get from one end to the other.
That’s how things were in the early 1990s at Euphemia Haye, the prominent eatery Arpke has owned with his wife, D’Arcy Arpke, since 1980. Those were the restaurant’s heydays, says Arpke.
The recession, however, hit Euphemia Haye hard, much like it did the entire high-end restaurant community in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. Several well-known spots closed, while others changed themes and menus.
But Arpke, for a few nights in early December, found himself in a time machine: Euphemia Haye was so busy he again used a back stairwell to get around the building. That, coupled with a 7% increase in sales in October and November over 2009, has the Arpkes hoping the worst of the recession could be over.
More proof: Customers are buying expensive drinks again, says Arpke, like Dom Pérignon and Opus wine.
“People seem to be back to spending money,” says D’Arcy Arpke, who considers the recent uptick “frugal fatigue.” “People are maybe beginning to enjoy life again.”
Managers and owners of new restaurants could look to the Arpkes for a how-to guide on restaurant survival strategy. First, Euphemia Haye, with 54 employees, treats every season like the restaurant is brand-new.
For D’Arcy Arpke, who handles the business side of the restaurant, that means balancing the line between saving and spending. For the 2010-2011 season, the Arpkes leaned toward the latter. The restaurant spent nearly $100,000 on infrastructure projects, including a $30,000 refrigerator and a renovation of the front of the building. They also increased the advertising budget.
The Arpkes, restaurant lifers who met in the 1970s when they both worked at The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, persevered with Euphemia Haye through several economic downturns.
“The shifts got a little longer,” Arpke says of owning his own place, “but at least I was working for myself.”