A vacant restaurant space at the end of a busy Wellington shopping plaza has a new tenant.
Skillets, a Naples-based breakfast and lunch chain, will open this winter at 13860 Wellington Trace in the Courtyard Shops at Wellington plaza.
Ross Edlund, founder and creative director of Skillets, said he was impressed by Wellington as a close-knit community. “The physical location is just terrific,” he said. “It’s just ideal for us. The patio is really nice. … We’re excited.”
The shopping center, owned by Publix, is about to undergo some major work. As part of its model to update older stores, Publix plans to tear down the grocery store at the plaza’s center, along with one retail space on either side of Publix. The Lakeland-based grocery store chain then plans to replace the older, smaller footprint with a larger, 59,000-square-foot state-of-the-art store.
The space where Skillets will be, on the plaza’s north end, previously was an IHOP. It had opened in early 2005, and closed in 2015. Other tenants in the Courtyard Shops include Tijuana Flats, Whit’s Frozen Custard, Kontiki, Eyes of Wellington, State Farm, Sally Beauty Supply, AT&T, 9 Round, Lindburgers Restaurant, SoBol, Scenthound and My Gym.
Edlund and his family moved to Naples, Florida, in the early 1990s from Chicago, where Edlund had founded and sold a successful bakery business called Let Them Eat Cake.
Once in Naples, Edlund bought a small deli grocery store in Naples, but it wasn’t able to survive out of season, he said.
He sold insurance products for a few years before his heart drew him back to the restaurant world. Edlund noticed that there was brisk business to be done in breakfast and lunch, because of the number of retired people in the Naples area.
“I opened up Skillets in a German restaurant that had gone broke,” Edlund said. “And I got it for back rent.”
Within two months, Skillets turned a profit. “There was demand down here,” Edlund said.
Since then, Skillets has grown to 14 locations, soon to be 15 when the newest Skillets opens in a couple of weeks at 14859 Lyons Road #132 in Delray Beach, Edlund said. The Wellington restaurant will be the 16th location.
“My philosophy was the same as I had in the bakery,” Edlund said. “I didn’t want to compete with the average. I wanted to be upscale.”
The food at Skillets is cooked with “a lot of care,” he said, and premium ingredients. Almost everything is homemade from scratch, including the corned beef hash, signature skillet potatoes, waffle batter and hollandaise sauce.
Many of Skillets’ customers are regulars, Edlund said, noting that the clean ingredients, friendly staff and delicious food keep people coming back .
“Treat the customer right, offer good food, great service and clean restrooms,” he said. “Those are the things we bank on.”
A few years ago, as Edlund approached age 65, he and his wife decided to “secure our future” by selling the majority share of Skillets to private equity group Rosser Capital Partners. Edlund has stayed on as creative director, overseeing the menu and food. Rosser Capital’s managing partner Hal Rosser is a Naples resident and Skillets fan, Edlund said.
“He’s been dining in Skillets for 10 years,” Edlund said.
What made Wellington a great prospective community for a new Skillets restaurant? “There’s a lot of daytime traffic,” Edlund said. “We always look for an endcap so we can have outdoor dining. And we look for moderate rent.”
The chain also looks for areas with a higher level of income, Edlund said. While seasonality is a factor, Edlund said the after nearly three decades, that matters less and less each year.
“I look for the diversity, which the east coast has built in because it’s so much larger,” he said of the year-round nature of our area’s residents.
“We are a neighborhood restaurant,” Edlund said. “You’re going to look for something that’s very comfortable, very warm and inviting. I think you’ll love what we cook.”
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