Skip to main content
Blog Article

On the Road With Lucas Laidlaw and Tim Graham

Jun 09, 2023

Lucas Laidlaw, Regional Director of Operations, Davidson Hospitality Group Tim Graham, Corporate Executive Chef, Davidson Restaurant Group

Known as the “Sportfishing Capital of the World,” and renowned for its pristine waters and breathtaking sunsets – Islamorada sits just 90 minutes south of Miami in the Florida Keys. According to local legend, it’s believed the area was named by Spanish explorers who, upon seeing the purple sky at sunset and the purple bougainvillea plants, called it “isla morado” or purple island. Our Islamorada Resort Collection sits at the confluence of Three Waters (The Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico & Florida Bay) and is comprised of Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina and Pelican Cove Resort & Marina on the main campus, and La Siesta Resort & Villas and Amara Cay Resort approximately 4 miles further south on the Overseas Highway. Each Resort has a distinct personality that complements any lifestyle or experience our guests may be looking for. Where Postcard Inn is vibrant, adventurous, and energetic, Pelican Cove is tranquil and reserved. La Siesta is fun and playful with its colorful casitas and genuine hospitality – and Amara Cay is warm and serene – one of the friendliest and most inviting resorts in the Florida Keys.

With work commencing on an over $50M transformational capital campaign, Chef Tim Graham and I spent a few days visiting the team to hone-in on our Davidson DNA standards and rollout of our Culinary Toolkit.

Each team had the opportunity to present their performance to date in regard to how they are creating value for our associates, our guests and our owners. Team engagement and recruiting was a key point throughout the discussions, and it was very clear from the visits that we have some very engaged teams and leaders.

Two very key Davidson initiatives were reviewed and presented by our hotel teams. The first one being our philanthropic efforts as an organization with our partners at Give Kids the World (GKTW). Each team presented their fun raising efforts to date with GKTW. This included the Berkeley Heights team’s fundraiser of “Pie the General Manager in the face.” At the Canopy Philadelphia the team has created a “store” in the Human Resources office where proceeds from the sales go to GKTW.

As we prepare to launch five new restaurant and bar concepts over the next nine months, the excitement is palpable, but the need to build a strong operational foundation remains mission critical. We’ll first see a gourmet Soft Serve shop open, followed by a Pizza Restaurant, offering what is certain to be the best Island-style pizza in the Keys. A relaunched Tiki Bar meant to elevate the experience but not alienate the local population will be next, followed by a new take on your classic raw bar along with an open-air South American-inspired street market on the waterfront that is sure to offer our guests a completely unique and authentic experience. The capstone to this will be our signature restaurant, a wood-fired homage to our local purveyors with the very best offerings from both land and sea, which will ultimately be in season and sustainable.

Leading the charge in Food & Beverage for the four Resorts is Complex Executive Chef Andrew Philips. A native of Missouri with stints in Austin and California, Chef Andrew has been at the Islamorada Resort Collection for over a year now and has exemplified our core values by always having his teams’ back and really embracing Davidson’s DNA in all facets of his operation. Overseeing multiple kitchens throughout the four resorts and charged with driving both consistency and creativity in our Restaurants & Bars, Chef Andrew has worked hard on creating recipe cards for all his menu items and has been in process over the past couple of months rolling out our Culinary Toolkit and training his team on our new processes and procedures. With help from Chef Tim Graham and Jordan Davis from DRG, Chef Andrew and his team have been able to focus on rightsizing a stubborn food cost issue while also elevating the cleanliness, organization, and overall quality of our Restaurant & Bar operations.

Chef Tim and I had the pleasure of visiting each kitchen and seeing our Team Members in action as well as reviewing the current progress on the Davidson DNA Culinary Toolkit. In the spirit of “Stay Hungry, Stay Humble”, Chef Andrew and his team were open on what areas they were doing well, and what areas we still need to optimize to “Live” our systems and Culinary DNA every day. Some key takeaways were how to overcome language barriers, the proper way to set the expectations around our new procedures – and the fact that it takes a lot more than just posting documents and checklists on the wall for this new process to work. It’s an everyday commitment to accountability from both our Front of House Team Members and Back of House Team Leaders along with support from our Steering Teams to really bring this initiative to life.

With a Food & Beverage operation that comprises multiple acres and is separated by miles – The cliche of “A lot of moving pieces” is certainly an understatement. From the main kitchen which serves the Tiki Bar and the Banquet and Catering Operation, to the Ciao Hound Kitchen which serves as the Resort’s main three meal restaurant. To the Raw Bar kitchen down to the main kitchen at Amara Cay which services the Restaurant, Tiki Bar & Banquet & Catering business – It’s a vast operation. But the common thread that we are working with the team to unite the five kitchens, four resorts, nine restaurants & bars, a warehouse and over 100 Front of House and Back of House Team Members serving on average 1,000 guest per day – Is our Culinary systems. Every day, shift by shift, as we continue to optimize and “Live” our systems – Our F&B Leadership Team and Team Members will come to work knowing what’s expected of them. From the Opening checklist to the review of the prior days sales by menu item, to their prep lists and side work, to the line checks prior to service – All the way to their closing checklists and paperwork – Each team will follow a cadence of accountability that sets their fellow team members up for success and guarantee’s our guests the freshest and most flavorful food and beverage options at our Restaurants and Bars.

As Chef Tim and I travel to numerous Hotels a year – We are tasked with growing, developing and mentoring our future culinary leaders. The role of our Culinary Toolkit and the impact it can make on our organization in respect to our Team Members, our Guests and Our Owner’s is immense. This is our secret sauce in the culinary world and allows us the freedom to be creative, offer best in class Restaurants and Bars – All while keeping our Owners investments top of mind.

It’s always exciting making the trip down to Islamorada and working alongside our Team Members who are making it happen for our guests every day. It’s our goal to create value when we come on to property and the collaboration which is so key to our culture is evident with so many disciplines throughout Davidson supporting this Resort Collection in its current state and future state. There are many exciting changes on the Horizon, and we’re going to continue to dig deep, optimize our systems and work with the team to pull through our Davidson DNA in all facets to drive some truly exceptional results.