Sarasota-based Gecko’s Hospitality Group purchased the Dry Dock Waterfront Grill last week for an undisclosed price.
Eric and Cindy Hammersand had no restaurant experience and were preparing for the birth of their first child when they opened Dry Dock Waterfront Grill with approximately 100 seats May 1, 1989.
“Longboaters told us we were crazy for opening at the beginning of summer,” Eric said. “They said we wouldn’t make it.”
Twenty-six years later, the Hammersands have raised two children while guiding the restaurant that now has 150 seats through three major renovations. The Hammersands turned down more offers than they can count from restaurateurs interested in buying what has become one of the most popular restaurants on Sarasota Bay.
But Wednesday, the Hammersands sold their restaurant to Sarasota-based Gecko’s Hospitality Group for an undisclosed price.
A major deciding factor for selling the restaurant was that their two grown children weren’t interested in being in the restaurant business.
Another factor was the Gecko’s group’s plans for the restaurant.
“They aren’t changing a thing,” Eric said. “The Dry Dock is staying as-is, from the chefs, to the management and staff, to the menu. We wouldn’t have sold it to anyone who wanted to change the menu or the culture.”
Mike Quillen, co-owner of Gecko’s, said he and his partners have been in discussions with the Hammersands for several months about an acquisition.
“We are really excited to add it to our portfolio,” Quillen said. “It’s casual but a little upscale.”
Quillen also confirmed the Dry Dock name, menu and staff will remain the same. The acquisition includes Dry Dock’s four boat slips.
Gecko’s Hospitality Group owns all six Gecko’s Grill and Pubs, which are located from Clark Road in south Sarasota to State Road 64 in north Manatee County. Gecko’s also owns S’macks Burgers and Shakes on Bee Ridge Road and the Red Barn bar, both in Sarasota. The company, founded in 1992, has around 400 employees.
Cindy said she and her husband had several interviews with the restaurant group’s owners and even its staff before deciding to sell.
“They have similar values,” Cindy said. “We talked to a lot of their people, and they enjoy working for them just like our staff enjoys working together with us as a family.”
When the Hammersands opened their restaurant in 1989, the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort was the place to be on the island.
“Fast forward to today, and you see what happens when you don’t reinvest just by driving by that property,” Eric said of the now shuttered resort.
The Hammersands have worked to modernize their restaurant over the years quietly — and have never had disputes at Longboat Key Town Hall, even when they expanded the restaurant.
Renovation projects in 2009 and 2013 didn’t generate much controversy.
The Hammersands said the town wasn’t friendly to businesses when they opened the restaurant in 1989.
“But as properties started to age and businesses left, commissioners realized how important updating properties and businesses are,” Eric said. “If we couldn’t do the enhancements, we wouldn’t be here today.”
In hindsight, the Hammersands believe the decision Longboaters said would doom their business — to open in the summer back in 1989 — allowed the business to survive.
“If we would have opened in season, we wouldn’t have made it. Cindy said. “Opening that summer gave us time to make mistakes and learn.”
Even 26 years later, the restaurant operates off a goal the couple had the day it opened.
“We wanted people to be able to have a quick hamburger or take the time to have a four-course meal,” Eric said. “And whether you’re in for lunch on a break from your construction site or having a business lunch in a suit and tie, you can feel comfortable here.”
The Hammersands believe the Key is changing for the better for businesses.
“Now there’s both a season and a summer season,” Eric said. “It’s a year-round business now.”
The Hammersands might consider restaurant consulting in the future, but for now, R&R is on the menu.
The Hammersands said the calls and well wishes this past week have been overwhelming.
“The best thing about this place is the people we’ve met and people we work with,” Eric said. “They are more than guests and employees; they are family.”
Eric said it’s important, especially on a barrier island, to give both patrons and employees a continued reason to patronize your business.
“There’s so many new restaurants, and we’re not in an area where most people live or work,” Eric Hammersand said. The Hammersands said they’ve been flooded with calls from longtime patrons who worry Dry Dock is changing, but they hope to quell concerns.
“I can’t stress enough that we wouldn’t sell the restaurant to anyone who is going to change it,” Eric said.