By Trebor Britt
Entrepreneur and Siesta Beach concession owner, Warren Labonté, continuously juggles staff, merchandise and services to help visitors receive a seamless and enjoyable experience on America's number one beach. It's a bit more difficult than just keeping three balls in the air, as the complete satisfaction of our wonderful visitors lies in the balance. As everyone knows, satisfying our fellow man is not always the easiest task, but Labonté does it with a great smile and professionalism. He has an infectious passion for people, Siesta Beach and delicious, satisfying food. And food is not the only thing featured at the beach’s newest facility. The views of the bright white powdery sands of Siesta Beach and the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico from the Sun Deck are truly spectacular.
Both new concessions have been fully operational for a year and a half now. The two-story tall building houses the Sun Deck while the one level concession a bit further north is still called the Siesta Beach Pavilion.
Labonté had to adjust his original hopes of having a chef at each location. He discovered people with the rigorous education that a culinary degree requires needed more of an opportunity to showcase their talent. In spite of this, Labonté offers a number of high quality food items in the kitchen. Over time, a few items were eliminated because of the time it takes to cook and present them. He realizes the beach environment is extremely fast-paced. "People want to get food and they don't want to wait in a long line. They want to get right back on the beach they came to enjoy," Labonté said. "The menu items offered are specifically selected to get people served and back to the fabulous beach as soon as possible. We even have state-of-the-art holding compartments for peak times so people don't have to wait."
Each concession features a few unique food items not found at the other location. Guests can enjoy quesadillas and steak sandwiches only on the Sun Deck along with their most popular items, chicken tenders and hamburgers. Food items unique to the northern Siesta Beach Pavilion concession include freshly baked pizzas and three different varieties of flat bread pizzas along with cod bites and fries and boom-boom shrimp. At some point in the future they will be offering a seafood salad wrap, a chicken salad wrap and clam strips and fries. Both locations sell soft serve ice cream and frozen adult beverages. The non-alcoholic frozen lemonade for children and adults has become so popular, they've added machines at both locations to keep up with demand. Without a doubt the most popular items at the Siesta Beach Pavilion are the flatbread pizzas, cheese and pepperoni pizza, tenders and fries, boom-boom shrimp and cod bites and fries.
The two food and beverage concessions are not the only facilities included with Labonté’s Sarasota County contract. Also included are a retail store, a beach rental and multi-purpose booth and a hair wrap station. Guests can purchase miscellaneous beach items, sunscreen, inflatables, floats, and use an ATM. High quality, bright red beach chairs, lounges and umbrellas can be rented from 9 am to 2:30 pm. daily, but all beach rentals need to be returned by 4 pm.
The biggest challenges Labonté faces every day are staff placement and weather issues. It's not easy to hire staff because, since the business is weather related, an employee could miss two or three shifts in a row. On poor weather days, he tries his best to use employees for inside work, but that's not always possible. Labonté said he deals with weather challenges on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.
With the weather, the two locations as well as all the moving parts of staff, Labonté has learned to patiently adjust. He considers his business a marathon, not a sprint, but recognizes and realizes every day there will be a handful of problems. The real challenge is not getting caught up in the problems. He said, "We try to discover what caused it, how do we solve it and how do we prevent it in the future and how do we grow and build on what we have learned. We're a beach concession, but we try to take it to another level. Our goal is to exceed our customer’s expectations." Their overwhelming priority is to get people served and back on the beach they came to enjoy.
Labonté related the true highlight over the past year and a half has been the beautiful facilities Sarasota County has provided for them and the honor and privilege they've had to work at the number one beach in America. He added, "The quality of the facilities and the great maintenance staff the county provides on a daily basis to keep the facility clean and shiny has been superb."