This article originally appeared in the Studer Community Institute blog on October 11, 2015.
By Mike Ensley for Studer Community Institute.
Good news for seafood fans: a Pensacola institution is returning to join the continuing revitalization of the downtown area.
Skopelos, the beloved fine-dining restaurant, closed its Scenic Highway doors in 2009, but now through a partnership with New World Landing, it’s set to make a comeback early next year.
“We’re very excited to bring the favorite items from our menu back to the new location,” said Gus Silivos, chef and owner of Skopelos. “And as the culinary scene has changed in the last six years, we expect to have many new items as well.”
Silivos, a third generation restaurateur and one of Pensacola’s Celebrity Chefs, is a Pensacola institution. With his wife, Nancy, he owns several other foodie favorites, including Nancy’s Haute Affairs and the Scenic 90 Café. In this new venture, he will become the director of operations and executive chef of the New World Landing complex.
Entrepreneurs like Silivos help improve the quality of life by adding to the vibrancy of downtown Pensacola. Research shows a thriving downtown is crucial to the economic development of a city.
Cooking, and the business of cooking, are in Silivos’ DNA.
“My grandfather opened his first restaurant in Pensacola during World War II,” Silivos said. “My father, Paul Silivos and his partner Pete Geeker opened Skopelos on Cervantes in 1959.”
By age 11, Silivos was working in the restaurant alongside his father during summers and weekends.
“I did a little of everything back then, from busing tables to working in the kitchen,” he said.
Silivos went to college, first at Pensacola Junior (now State) College and then on to the University of West Florida, where he graduated with a business degree.
But the lure of the kitchen called.
“A friend and mentor told me about the Culinary Institute of America,” Silivos said. “In those days, the explosion of cooking schools hadn’t happened yet; there were only three or four in the country.”
Silivos attended the Culinary Institute of America for two years, which laid the foundation for his skills not only as a chef, but also as a business man.
“The CIA provided a great base,” he said. “And while 75 percent of the time there is spent on learning kitchen skills, 25 percent is spent learning about restaurant management.”
Silivos brought his experience and training back home and was instrumental in setting up PSC’s Culinary Arts program.
Making a lasting impact
According to a study by Ohio State University, 60 percent of restaurants fail in their first year and 80 percent don’t make it past five years. Silivos knows firsthand that it’s a tough business and has some advice for budding chef entrepreneurs.
“Too many talented people who have great product fail because they lack the necessary management skills,” he said
Silivos says the best option for these entrepreneurs is to find people who know what they may not.
“Many people who love cooking often realize it’s another thing when they come down to the day-to-day hands-on management of a business,” he said. “Instead of trying to do it all yourself, partner with someone who has those business skills.”
Silivos believes that frees up the chef to do what they do best: cooking and creating a great experience for the customer.
“As a chef owner, you have to be on top of things,” he said. “Your reputation is only as good as the last plate you served.”
The new Skopelos will be joining many other restaurants on Palafox, but located on the south end of the street, Silivos believes it will set his new venture apart.
“Even before we closed, we were feeling the effects of things like Gallery Night over on Scenic Highway,” he said. “And with our location at New World Landing, I feel like we are more on the ‘adult’ end of Palafox, away from the all the nightlife, but close enough for people to enjoy everything.”
Silivos also believes that with the increased vibrancy of downtown, more people are increasingly interested in making downtown home.
“I think that is the only thing missing from downtown that will complete its revitalization is residential space,” he said. “But with the new condominium development and the apartments being built on the Pensacola News Journal site, we are already on our way.”
Silivos expects to employ between 75-100 people at the new Skopelos location.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “The setting there is wonderful – covered seating on Palafox, the adjoining atrium, the courtyard which really calls to mind New Orleans – it’s just beautiful.”
For Silvos, the time just seems right.
“The level of community support we’ve seen for the return has been wonderful,” he said. “I think Skopelos is going to be a success downtown.”
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