Sarasota blogger and photographer Brenna Foster heard her name above the noise, a friendly shout out, while shopping with her kids a year ago at Whole Foods.
It was Steve Seidensticker, a prominent Sarasota restaurateur and philanthropist, calling Foster. She had been a server at Libby’s Café & Bar in Sarasota — one of the better-known eateries in the Seidensticker family holdings. But that had been four years previous.
“He gave me a big hug and said whenever you want to come back to work, there’s a job waiting for you,” Foster says Seidensticker told her. “He always had kind words and support for anyone. He always looked you in the eye. He really cared about people.”
Seidensticker died Tuesday Aug. 14 after battling cancer for several months. He was 65.
Seidensticker, along with his three adult children at various times, ran Tableseide Restaurant Group, a holding company that includes Libby’s, Louies Modern, Muse at The Ringling and Oak & Stone, in addition to a charitable arm. Currently closed for renovations and a rebranding, Libby’s is a quintessential Seidensticker operation in that he led a revival there, of what was Fred’s Restaurant, at the onset of the recession in 2008. Seidensticker, who for 25 years before Libby’s ran the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande, was undaunted by the risk.
“I'm not foolishly optimistic,” Seidensticker told the Business Observer in 2008, when he and his sons, Joe and Patrick Seidensticker, opened Libby’s. (His daughter, Lisa Seidensticker, joined Tableseide later.) “We went into this with our eyes wide open. We know what we are facing.”
Several people in the Sarasota business and nonprofit community recall Seidensticker as a rare combination of hyper-focused entrepreneur with a disarming sense of humor and an unwavering heart for people less fortunate. “I can’t say enough about his giving spirit, his motivation that he was giving back to humankind,” says Sarasota City Commissioner Willie Shaw, who worked closely with Seidensticker on Miss Susie’s Newtown Kitchen, a community-based restaurant and redevelopment project in the Newtown section of Sarasota. “I can’t say enough about the person I met in Steve Seidensticker.”
Seidensticker was involved in multiple nonprofits, including JFCS of the Suncoast, Jewish Family and Children’s Services. He was board chairman of JFCS for a time, before he stepped down when he got sick.
Seidensticker got to know JFCS president and CEO Heidi Brown when she ran Aviva — A Campus for Senior Life in Sarasota. The senior living campus was renovating its kitchen and bistro facilities, and Seidensticker, recalls Brown, offered ideas and advice. “He just wanted to help and wanted nothing in return,” says Brown. “He was always like that. He always wanted to do something to help someone else.”
Seidensticker later recruited Brown to run JFCS. The pair worked closely together, with Seidensticker, says Brown, removing obstacles for her to move the organization forward on several initiatives. “He was more interested in the outcome than the process,” says Brown, adding that his can-do spirit is what drove him to success in his restaurant business. “He was impatient and wanted to get to a solution.”
Adds Brown: “I can’t imagine a Sarasota without Steve.”