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Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021 7 months ago

(Former) New York entrepreneur embraces Florida's freedoms

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Buddy Foy says year one of being a Sunshine State resident has gone rather well.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Buddy Foy is all in on Florida.

His conversion started in late 2020 — first it was more of an anti-New York thing than a straight up pro-Florida move. Back then, a week before Christmas 2020, the noted entrepreneur and restaurant owner opened The Chateau Anna Maria in the Waterline Marina Resort on Anna Maria Island.

Star of the new Food Network TV show Summer Rush, Foy, in a pre-pandemic world, had been operating Chateau by the Lake, a French-inspired eatery in upstate Lake George. Then the pandemic, and specifically what Foy considers arbitrary and capricious restaurant capacity rules imposed by then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, began to crush his business. When indoor dining was banned in New York, for example, Foy says restaurants were only given 24 hours notice to comply. So Foy and family decamped for Florida.

In the 12 months or so since the move, Foy, who already had some family in the region, including his brother, Keith, has become not just a Florida resident but also a Florida fan. “We spend as much time in Florida as possible,” Foy says. “We are full-time Florida residents now.”

'I’m sort of a voice of restaurant owners stuck in Covid states who want to come down to Florida. I’ve become like a voice of all the people who want to remain open.' Buddy Foy

Foy has retained some of his New York-ness, including his accent and his fast-moving, frenetic pace. But in running a business in the Sunshine State — one he plans to expand in the near future — Foy has found many kindred spirits: people, who, like him, say they just want government to leave him alone and put an end to the constantly changing COVID-19 mandates and rules.  

“I’m legitimately blown away over how much support we got when we first opened, especially from other restaurant owners,” Foy says, noting people were regularly coming by, asking him if he needed supplies or contractors or other help.

Year one of operating a restaurant in Florida has gone well, Foy says, but not without some significant challenges. Two big ones are labor shortages and inflation and general costs of goods and supplies. On the first one, Foy says the front of the house staffing situation has been relatively stable. The kitchen? Not so much. In the kitchen, he says a couple of super-dedicated chefs are working 80, 90 hours a week, and he worries about burnout. “We’ve had a hard time keeping people, especially in the kitchen, where the chefs we are working their butts off for us,” Foy says.

On inflation and increased costs, Foy has resisted, so far, raising prices at The Chateau Anna Maria to boost margins. But that’s not a forever decision, he says, if his costs remain high. He says pre-pandemic, costs of food were about 20% to 25% of his overall expenses. In the past year that’s jumped to nearly 40%. “I’m OK with that for a year or two while we work through this tragedy, with the pandemic,” he says. “But I can’t go much more that.”

Menu price points and labor shortages have exacerbated another problem in the restaurant industry, not just Foy’s place: customer service. Foy and many other restaurants have been dinged on Yelp and other review sites for subpar service, a full-circle issue when staffing is low. “It’s been tough because customers still expect the same kind of great customer service pre-Covid,” Foy says.

File. Buddy Foy and his wife Jennifer Foy opened The Chateau Anna Maria in December 2020.

Challenges withstanding, Foy isn’t the type to buckle under the pressure. His New York location remains open about 100 days a year, and he’s moving forward on expansion plans in Florida for 2022. To that end, a new restaurant under the Chateau brand is scheduled to open in Sarasota, at a location south of downtown on Tamiami Trail, possibly by March. He had hoped to open that location Dec. 19, 2021, the one-year anniversary of the Anna Maria Island spot, but that’s been delayed by permitting and materials delays. The concept at the Sarasota location will be similar to the Anna Maria Island spot: French-inspired cuisine in an elegant atmosphere.

Foy is also moving forward in his newfound role of Florida cheerleader, especially for businesses in states more prone to issue lockdowns and mandates. He’s been interviewed on Fox News and other cable outlets more than 20 times in the past year, where the focus is usually pandemic policies between New York and Florida. He also has a podcast and radio show that airs Saturdays in the Sarasota-Bradenton region and Sundays in the New York City metro area.

“I’m sort of a voice of restaurant owners stuck in Covid states who want to come down to Florida,” Foy says. “I’ve become like a voice of all the people who want to remain open.”

 

In 2021, many companies discovered new ways to adjust to the pandemic. These nimble entrepreneurs believe that know-how — and guts — will be a key factor for continued success in 2022. Click the links below to read more about the Business Observer's 2021 newsmakers.

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