Sitting at the back bar at Siesta Key Oyster Bar, surrounded by Sharpie-covered dollar bills, abandoned license plates and a healthy amount of Chicago Bears swag, co-owner Beth Owen-Cipielewski can’t help but smile as she explains that it all started10 years ago with the search for the ideal setting to cheer on their home football team in Sarasota.
Living in Dallas at the time, she remembers receiving a phone call from her sister, Jill Pedigo, who had just moved from the Chicago suburbs to Sarasota.
“We have to buy this bar,” said Pedigo, referring to Siesta Key Oyster Bar, which was for sale and in great need of remodeling. “Wouldn’t it be great to have our own place to watch the Bears?”
Having already patronized the beach bar, Pedigo and her father certainly thought so. Back in Dallas, however, Owen-Cipielewski remained skeptical.
“My husband had just lost his job,” she says. “I told her there was no way I was going to move to Florida and buy a restaurant — she booked me ticket, anyway. Six weeks later, we closed on the deal. That’s my sister.”
The two sisters, along with their father and husbands, combined their skills to remodel the building, replacing everything but the 52-year old front bar. Owen-Cipielewski says they hoped to maintain the history of the bar and preserve its old-Florida feel.
In fact, she says, the renovation was the inspiration behind one of the bar’s longstanding traditions and most recognizable features. Owen-Cipielewski’s husband, Keith, found four dollar bills left at the front bar by longtime regulars, and unsure what to do with them, he decided to hang them on the newly barren back wall.
“The next thing we knew,” says Owen-Cipielewski, “There were dollar bills everywhere. There’s an old wives’ tale that fishermen would stick a dollar on the wall of the bar before going out to sea, so they could still buy a beer if they didn’t make any money on their catch. But, honestly, it just kind of happened.”
Over the years, customers have left countless personalized dollars, license plates, family photos and various other personal trinkets, and Owen-Cipielewski says they’ve been happy to embrace the tradition.
“Our customers have made SKOB their home,” she says, laughing at a JC Penny-esque family portrait of a group of friends to her left. “I have no idea who they are. But, we want people to make this place their own.”
In celebration of the official 10-year anniversary, SKOB will host an all-day party Tuesday, Nov. 19, which will include a special food and drink menu, special edition Tervis tumblers, prizes and giveaways, and staff will take down and count all the money on the walls. The three customers who guess closest to the total amount without going over will receive $100, $50 and $25 SKOB gift cards, respectively; a portion of the money will benefit the All Faith Food Banks Thanksgiving meal.
“SKOB has grown five fold since we opened it,” says Owen-Cipielewski. “A lot of that is because of the great relationships we have with our customers and employees. It really is like a family here.”