By Diana Colson
21 years ago, best buddies and tennis partners—Mike Quillen and Mike Gowan— teamed up for a restaurant adventure, and Gecko’s Grill &Pub was born. Five Gecko’s later, the “Two Mikes” have proved that their winning philosophies of hospitality and service-to-community have really paid off. Increasingly they are sharing their successes with our town.
As a Co-Owner of Gecko’s Grill & Pub, Mike Quillen was a recent recipient of the prestigious 2013 National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Neighbor Florida Cornerstone Humanitarian award. These awards are given nationally to honor restaurants that go “above and beyond” in community service, a description that fits Gecko’s like a glove! The aim of this award is not only to honor the individual, but also to inspire other restaurateurs to become involved in their local communities.
Through the creative use of his restaurants, Quillen has provided valuable community service right here in Sarasota. Gecko’s has become a supporter of Operation Second Chance, an organization that serves America’s ill and wounded combat veterans. Gecko’s is also a benefactor of the non-profit Y Youth Shelter, a safe haven for homeless children 10-17 years of age. The shelter badly needed to replace two aging vans used to transport kids. Gecko’s responded by running a “Be a Van Fan” campaign to help raise money. At Gecko’s 21-year Birthday Celebration—which took place recently at The Landings location—guests turned out in droves to cheer as the Y Youth Shelter unveiled their new used van.
In addition to these and other worthy causes, Gecko’s and Mike Quillen partner with dozens of schools in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, providing Super Student Free Meals to thousands of elementary students. Besides these Super Student awards, they also support countless numbers of teams, projects and events in various area schools.
Mike Quillen has lived in the area since he was a young lad. He graduated from Riverview High School, attended Manatee Junior College on a tennis scholarship, and transferred to New College. He has been married to Mary Quillen for 16 years, and they have two daughters, ages 20 and 13.
Mike Gowan was born at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, graduated from Sarasota High School, and—like Mike Quillen— also attended Manatee Junior College on a tennis scholarship. Gowan then transferred to the University of Florida. After graduation, he returned to live and work in Sarasota.
“We started Gecko’s as a little neighborhood bar and pub, focusing on fresh fare, and a strong Hospitality quotient,” says Quillen. “Our guests are our friends, and our employees are our heroes. We believe in the community, and we live, work, and play here, too.”
The two Mikes are not only lifelong friends, they make excellent business partners. When it comes to community service, Quillen has Gowan’s full support as he uses all five Gecko’s restaurants to benefit dozens of charitable groups in our community. The civic-minded Quillen personally serves on several community Boards, and is the Immediate Past President of The Argus Foundation, a public policy community foundation which harnesses business leadership for effective community building.
Gecko’s Grill & Pub is economically important to our community. It has been providing jobs and creating economic stimulus since 1992. Today, the five Gecko’s restaurants currently employ over 300 Floridians.
The “Two Mike’s” newest venture, S’macks Burgers & Shakes, is scheduled to open early in August. It is a tip of the hat to The Smack, a Sarasota drive-in and diner that was an enormously popular hangout during the post-World War II period. The Smack of the 50’s featured beautiful girls on roller skates who took orders curbside. S’macks of today will not have those fast-moving waitresses. However, it promises to serve “Quick Casual Food with a Conscience.” This new casual dining spot will feature old-fashioned frozen custard shakes, a modern take on the classic America Burger, hand-cut locally sourced fries, and S’macks Dogs—a custom-made Top Dog, crafted in the vicinity just for S’macks.The location will be at Bee Ridge Road and Shade Avenue, and it will have 2,500 feet of indoor and outdoor seating.
“The quick-casual dining scene is a really popular trend,” says Quillen. “Burgers are really hot right now.” He aims to elevate quality of the modern burger by bringing it more in line with 21st century nutrition standards. “It will be really neat to share a part of Sarasota’s rich historical past in this new restaurant concept.”
Their ties to the community run deep. Following the success of the original Gecko’s at The Landings in 1992, the two Mikes have expanded to four other nearby locations: Twelve Oaks Plaza (I-75 & SR 70) in 1998; Braden River Plaza on SR 64 in 2002; Palmer Crossing (Clark Rd. & Honore Ave.) in 2006; and Southside Village (Hillview St.) in 2010. They have been consistently awarded and honored with “Best of the Best” awards, including Best Happy Hour, Best Sports Bar, Best Burger, Best Take Away, Coldest Beer, Best Lunch, Taste of Sarasota People’s Choice Awards, Best Entrée, best Appetizers, and more!
The “Two Mikes” have not only brought Sarasota wonderful food in a family-friendly atmosphere, they have generously given back to the community. For more information go to www.geckosgrill.com