If Bob Turoff were thinking only about the bottom line, he would have done what many other businesses do and close down in summer. But the owner of the oldest continually operating professional dinner theater in the country never wanted to put waiters and kitchen staff out of a job. His employees are his family.
Three of his servers have been with the theater for 35 years and a fourth for nearly 30.
“We believe in comfortable, long-term relationships,” Turoff said. “We’ve suffered through all of these slow summers. With the economy on its way to recovery, I look forward to bigger and better things.”
When Turoff opened The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre in 1971, someone told him the average lifespan of a dinner theater was about seven years. The Golden Apple will celebrate its 40th anniversary this September.
“We’ve been through two recessions and 10 hurricanes,” he said. “This theater was a shelter when we were doing ‘West Side Story.’ My cast couldn’t get home and stayed here for four days. We were able to feed them with food we had in the walk-in cooler.”
The Golden Apple has presented 312 family-oriented productions, contributed nearly $500,000 in complimentary tickets and been a vibrant part of the downtown community.
“The best thing this award can do is get our name out among the newcomers who don’t know much about the Golden Apple,” Turoff said. “We’re honored to be in the mesh and in the same breath of those two behemoths — the Sarasota Orchestra and the Sarasota Film Festival.”
AT A GLANCE
Address: 25 N. Pineapple Ave.
Start date: 1971
Number of employees when started: 22
Number of employees now: 50
Advice: “Surround yourself with the best people you can find for what you can afford, who will understand what you’re trying to do — but make sure they are mostly women.”
Biggest challenge: “Getting past summer and the end of season and staying open.”
Where do you see your business one year from now? “Growing with the addition of the new parking garage, which will eliminate one of the big hassles of doing business in downtown Sarasota.”