KozyakTropin& Throckmorton Top-Ranked by 2017 Chambers USA Guide in Bankruptcy/Restructuring and General Commercial Litigation

The 2017 Chambers USA Guide has ranked KozyakTropin& Throckmorton in Band 1 in the firm’s core practice areas of Bankruptcy & Restructuring and General Commercial Litigation.

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Health Care Bankruptcy: A Primer of a Provider’s Chapter 11 Case

By David A. Samole

Various factors including increased competition and reimbursement landscape challenges have led hospitals and other healthcare providers to file for bankruptcy over the last few years. For the remainder of 2017, due in part to the current uncertainty in the healthcare industry and its legislative oversight, more financially distressed providers are considering Chapter 11 bankruptcy to effectuate closures, consolidation, restructurings and related transactions. The following are some of the aspects of bankruptcy specific to healthcare providers that they need to consider when weighing this decision.

Additional Parties and Issues in Healthcare Provider Chapter 11 Cases

A.        The Patient Care Ombudsman

Healthcare provider bankruptcies differ from ordinary Chapter 11 cases, as they address unique issues regarding patient care, record keeping and privacy rights, at times with intermediary oversight by a court-appointed patient care ombudsman. The Bankruptcy Code requires the appointment of a patient care ombudsman within 30 days after commencement of a “health care business” bankruptcy case, unless the court finds that an ombudsman is not necessary for the protection of the patients under the circumstances of the case.1 The ombudsman must report every 60 days regarding the quality of patient care, based on onsite inspections, quality control reports and other review mechanisms. The fees of the ombudsman are paid by the bankruptcy estate and are entitled to administrative expense priority. Generally, appointment of an ombudsman is more frequent with operating Chapter 11 providers and less frequent with liquidating providers, where the court takes a cost-benefit analysis between the need for patient care oversight (for those Chapter 11 providers still operating) against the financial condition of the bankruptcy estate.

B.        Government and Private Insurance Company Payors

Healthcare provider bankruptcies are complicated by disputed bankruptcy court jurisdiction over the provider reimbursements and payor claims reconciliation process relative to exhaustion of administrative remedies, the automatic stay, and setoff and recoupment rights, as well as disputing the treatment of provider agreement obligations in free and clear sales and/or assignments of executory contracts under Sections 363(f) and 365 of the Bankruptcy Code.

i.          Pledging Government Receivables as Collateral

Many times receivables owed from a payorare pledged as collateral to a provider’s lender, similar to when a bank takes a mortgage as collateral for providing a home loan. Pledged receivables raise issues in the government payor context. Exercising remedies on government accounts receivable is complicated because the receivables are subject to related federal and state “Anti-Assignment Rules” affecting Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs. These Anti-Assignment Rules require that Medicare and Medicaid payments be made only to a deposit account over which the healthcare provider has sole control.2Any attempt by a provider to assign these receivables in violation of the Anti-Assignment Rules may result in the termination of the provider’s participation agreement in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Such termination would de-stabilize the provider’s flow of revenue, making reorganization much more difficult, if not impossible. However, many parties have enacted a successful work-around mechanism in which the government receivables are deposited directly into a provider’s bank account, and then the government payments are subsequently swept daily into a second deposit account under the lender’s control. Upon a provider bankruptcy filing, however, a lender must stop the automatic sweep of cash from the provider’s account due to the Bankruptcy Code’s automatic stay. The automatic stay works by operation of law without any further court order as an automatic injunction in place as of the petition date against creditor lawsuits and collection efforts as to Chapter 11 entities and their property.3 As such, it is advisable for Chapter 11 providers and their lender to enter into cash collateral agreements subject to bankruptcy court approval, which typically provide for adequate protection payments and a negotiated budget.

ii.         A Fight Over Where to Fight with Payors

Outside of bankruptcy, the federal government and its contractors routinely withhold Medicare and Medicaid payments upon determination that a healthcare provider has been overpaid on a prior unrelated reimbursement claim. Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(h), federal courts may take jurisdiction over Medicare disputes only after a party exhausts applicable appeal processes within the Medicare system. The federal courts are split regarding the plain language of 42 U.S.C. § 405(h), as it relates to bankruptcy courts’ jurisdictional limitations, thus impacting a provider’s protections in Chapter 11. Some Circuit Courts of Appeal have determined that a requirement to exhaust administrative remedies is inapplicable in bankruptcy cases; others have found that exhaustion of administrative remedies applies even in federal bankruptcy court.4 A provider in bankruptcy currently has a petition on file with the United States Supreme Court for certiorari review of this issue.5

Forum disputes also exist between network providers in bankruptcy and their private insurance payors, as most contracts contain arbitration clauses and administrative remedies provisions. There is some disagreement by courts as to the enforcement of arbitration clauses in the bankruptcy context.6

iii.        Payor Take-Backs as Setoffs or Recoupment

The government system regarding Medicare and Medicaid payments differs meaningfully from private insurance company payments. Government payments to many providers are made on an interim basis under a prospective reimbursement system, which results in payments before a determination that the services rendered are covered and costs are reasonable. Due in large part to the prospective payment system, more courts than not find that the subsequent take-backs are permissible recoupments as part of a single, integrated and ongoing transaction between the government and the payor.7In the private insurance company setting, payments are not made on a prospective reimbursement system; instead claims are vetted and approved prior to initial payment. Yet there are instances of payment error which trigger requests for overpayment reimbursement. Many insurance company payors resort to unilateral take-backs where they apply their asserted reimbursement overpayment against a more recent valid claim of an unrelated patient. Because private insurance company payments are not made on an integrated, prospective reimbursement system like government payors, the private insurance company payors seemingly have a weaker argument to support that these take-backs are recoupments instead of a setoff. This distinction between calling a take-back a setoff or recoupment is important because setoffs are subject to the Bankruptcy Code’s automatic stay, and generally setoff obligations fall within claims that can be sold free and clear in bankruptcy sales merely attaching to sale proceeds, but not applied against a bankruptcy purchaser of a provider license. In addition, setoff may not be permitted by the Court, as violating the Bankruptcy Code’s temporal aspects concerning mutuality of obligation – when the alleged overpayment itself occurs prior to the bankruptcy filing, but the takeback would occur after the bankruptcy filing. Recoupments, however, are not subject to the automatic stay nor the distribution scheme for creditors, and may not be discharged in a bankruptcy sale or plan confirmation. However, payor recoupment actions remain an equitable defense remedy subject to judicial determination upon challenge by a provider.

iv.        Sales of Provider Numbers Free and Clear of Government Payor Claims

The relationship between the Medicare/Medicaid programs and providers is captured in a written provider agreement, which affords providers a license/number to participate in the Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement program. A dispute arises when the provider seeks a sale of assets in bankruptcy, including the provider number. The government’s general position in bankruptcy is that the provider agreement is an executory contract subject to the Bankruptcy Code requirement that its obligations (the overpayments) must be cured before it can be assumed and assigned to a purchaser/assignee.8

Providers and purchasers tend to argue that the provider licenses/numbers are not executory contracts and are licenses/assets that can be sold free and clear of the overpayment obligations existing at the time of the sale. The general rationale is that the provider license is not a negotiated agreement like most contracts, but is a regulatory form application that is completed and approved by the government. Also, a ruling requiring a cure prior to assumption/assignment or of potential successor liability either would block the sale or greatly diminish the value of the assets, impeding an ability to maximize value for case constituents. However, even if the provider license is not deemed to be an executory contract, if the overpayment recovery actions are deemed a recoupment, then more bankruptcy cases than not hold that a bankruptcy sale still could not extinguish that claim against the purchaser.9 Because of this issue, often settlements are reached and work-arounds are accomplished, such as setting up a portion of the sale proceeds in escrow or setting up a waterfall overpayment recovery scheme: first from the sale proceeds, then other bankruptcy estate funds on hand, and finally perhaps a budgeted annual-capped amount from the purchaser.


Healthcare provider Chapter 11 cases are multi-faceted and include additional parties and issues than standard Chapter 11 cases. A financially distressed provider considering Chapter 11 is best served to find a properly vetted stalking horse deal partner prior to filing the case and engage in meaningful discussions with its payors and lenders, if possible. Providers should aim to move the case to the sale and Chapter 11 plan process expeditiously where the jurisdictional, license and setoff-recoupment issues can be teed up and addressed in short order, during which time patient care can be properly maintained pending litigation and further settlement discussions with the creditor constituents.

David A. Samole is a Partner at KozyakTropin& Throckmorton, LLP in Miami, Florida. He focuses his practice on healthcare litigation, corporate bankruptcy and insolvency-related litigation matters. He represents healthcare providers in disputes with managed care companies and government payors as well as parties in corporate reorganizations, liquidations, workouts and financially distressed transactions. He may be reached at das@kttlaw.com.

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Wedding gown chaos: As Alfred Angelo closes all stores, here’s what brides-to-be can do

By Hannah Madans

Bride-to-be Darlene Mejia, 27, was waiting nervously Friday morning outside the closed Alfred Angelo store at Tyler Street and Magnolia Avenue in Riverside.

Her $1,800 dress, a strapless white gown with a full skirt and beaded bodice, was paid for and at the shop to be pressed for her wedding Saturday, July 15.

Mejia was in disbelief when she got a 6 a.m. text from her mother.

“The store’s closed,” she told Mejia. “You better go see if you can get your dress.”

She tried the phone numbers listed on a memo taped to the shop door, but only got recordings. She wondered why someone from the store didn’t call her Thursday when they were still open.

Alfred Angelo, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and retailers of wedding gowns, closed all 60 of its U.S. stores as it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The retailer, known for its Disney-themed designs, also has partnerships with some 1,400 retailers.

“I’m really trying to stay calm, but all the money we put into these dresses,” Mejia said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Brides or bridal parties who have been impacted by the sudden closures have been advised to contact attorney Patricia A. Redmond with the Miami, Fla.-based law firm Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff&Sitterson.

Redmond told the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that she will work with a court-appointed trustee to release bridal dresses being held by the stores. In a telephone interview, she said had received more than 3,500 emails from panicked brides.

Tory Dean, a manager with The Dresser Bridal Couture shop in Fullerton, said she figured something was up before the stores abruptly closed.

“We kind of got wind about it last weekend,” she said. “We had a couple walk in the door who had gone to an Alfred Angelo store in Brea by the Brea Mall, and they said that store was no longer able to order dresses — everything in the store was discounted. So they came and shopped with us.”

For Redlands bride-to-be Brenda Taylor, 37, the frustration and disappointment have led her to consider canceling her July wedding next summer.

After looking for a dress for a year, she finally found one at Alfred Angelo’s Riverside store that she liked and that came in her size – the Jasmine gown from the Disney collection. Taylor had paid for most of it and was going to complete the purchase when the dress was ready this fall, she said.

After learning the company had shut down, she tried calling different stores and rushed to one in Ontario because the phone number still worked, only to see a rack of dresses inside the locked doors, she said.

Taylor said she thinks it’s unlikely she’ll get her deposit back.

“I worked so much overtime just to pay for that. That’s like $1,000 gone, Taylor said. “I’m almost to the point where I’m saying forget the wedding.”

For rapidly approaching weddings, brides and customers of Angelo’s may be out of luck.

Corali Lopez-Castro, a partner at KozyakTropin& Throckmorton, has handled retail bankruptcies in the past.

All decisions about dresses, she said, are up to a trustee, not the company, in a Chapter 7 filing, which indicates an asset liquidation vs. a Chapter 11 restructuring.

“It would seem to me that the better course of business would be to release the dress to the customer,” Lopez-Castro said. Not doing so, she said, would be a “public relations nightmare and frankly chaos.”

Ron Friedman, a CPA and retail expert at Marcum’s Century City office and co-leader in the firm’s National Retail & Consumer Products Industry group, thinks the brides will get their dresses.

“I would be surprised if a judge didn’t give them their inventory,” he said. “It would be unusual to punish the consumer or the public. The owners of the company and the suppliers and the landlords will take the major hits.”

For any rapidly approaching weddings, Lopez-Castro suggests going to “Plan B.”

“The trustee is going to need some time to figure things out,” she said.

“I hope nobody has a wedding this weekend,” Friedman added. He said the judge and trustee would work together to make these decisions.

If a creditor has a lien on the inventory, they may choose to re-sell the dress, Lopez-Castro said. The Alfred Angelo customer could file a claim, but it “will not be worth very much.”

Anaheim resident Victor Esquivel’s fiancé Airam Arroyo put a deposit on an Alfred Angelo dress at Brea Mall, where a small scuffle broke out Friday between employees and anxious customers.

She texted him today, scared, after hearing the store had closed, Esquivel said.

The two did not go to the store to see what was going on. “There’s no point in going if the store is closed,” Esquivel said.

The two were fearful they wouldn’t have enough money for another one if they didn’t get money back for the lost dress.

“We have so many bills right now. We can’t afford another dress. It’s very stressful,” Esquivel said.

Lopez-Castro said he may be in luck as it was likely the trustee would allow customers to pay the balance instead of selling the dress in a liquidation sale. But the decision would be up to the trustee.

Friedman had a different take. The CPA said these customers would likely be treated as creditors, likely in a preferred class, because “they have deposits on a dress they are never going to get.”

Kristin Laterreur, a 32-year-old Fullerton resident, bought her gown at an Alfred Angelo location in Beverly Hills for her Nov. 3 wedding.

She heard the store had closed on social media and quickly went to the store to see if she could pick up her dress, which was in the store for alterations.

She became frustrated at the store when nobody was there or had any information for her. Other anxious customers were at the store as well.

“A couple hours ago I was crying a lot,” Laterreur said. “I’m at the point where there’s not much else I can do. I just want to know if I need to start over.”

By midday, her mood had improved as she waited to get more information.

A group of about a dozen concerned customers also gathered in front of the Alfred Angelo Bridal shop in Rancho Cucamonga on Friday morning.

A sign on the door of the store at 11540 4th St. provided the email address predmond@stearnsweaver.com for concerned customers to get more information.

Angry customers said they were frustrated they were not warned of the closure, and many were expecting a store representative to meet with them when store opened at 11 a.m.

Edith Enriquez of San Bernardino was among the crowd. Enriquez said about $1,400 had been spent on her daughter’s wedding dress, which was to be ready next month.

“They called her and they had her pick up her veil and they said, ‘don’t worry, we’ll ship your dress,’ but they never told her about the situation … it came out on the news,” Enriquez said. “We have that money invested in this dress, so in order to start looking somewhere else, we need that money to start again.”

Alma Alvarez, of Ontario, was also at the store Friday to see if she could pick up her daughter’s bridal gown, worth $2,500.

“It’s really sad because the girls have their dream of getting their dresses, and it’s so hard for them to earn money to pay for the dresses, so it’s hard for me to see the news of their closing,” said an emotional Alvarez. “My daughter called me to go and pick up the dress if I could.”

Help for brides

Affected customers looking to get a dress elsewhere may be in luck as some competitors are offering deals.

David’s Bridal will offer people with an Alfred Angelo receipt 30 percent off wedding dresses, 20 percent off bridesmaid dresses, rush fees waived and alteration services for Alfred Angelo dresses.

Pebbles Bridal, which has locations in Woodland Hills and Orange County, is also offering aid to Alfred Angelo brides.

“We know the abrupt shutdown of all Alfred Angelo stores has left many of you without a gown for your big day and we truly feel for you. Stay calm. We got this,” the group wrote in an Instagram post. The company said customers with an unfulfilled Alfred Angelo gown or bridesmaid order can contact Pebbles Bridal locations for information on new orders and off-the-rack options.

Other retailers jumped in, too:

“If you have your measurements we may be able to help, we just launched our online store and have many designers who will go above and beyond to help those who have been left high and dry,” wrote Garth Hewitt from Timeless Bridal on Alfred Angelo’s Facebook page.

After hearing about the situation, bridal gown alterations specialist Renee Young, who went to the shop in Rancho Cucamonga, said she’s reaching out to help anyone in a bind because of the closure.

“I’m offering to help out any bride that needs help (with a dress),” said Young, who said she could be reached at her home business at 909-994-8463. “They’re frantic getting their gowns. Because it’s going to be a long process, I’m offering anything they might need to help with their wedding. I also have gowns for them to purchase under 100 dollars.”

Here’s how to contact the lawyer for Alfred Angelo:

Patricia A. Redmond, Esquire
Stearns Weaver Miller
150 West Flagler Street
Miami, Florida 33130
Phone: 305-789-3553
Fax: 305-789-3395

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Florida’s New PPO Balance Billing Prohibition: Outlook for Providers and Patients

By Maria D. Garcia

“Florida’s New PPO Balance Billing Prohibition: Outlook for Providers and Patients,” South Florida Legal Guide 2017 Edition.

Substance Over Sizzle

The secrets behind the success—and longevity—of four Southwest Florida restaurants.

By Elizabeth Kellar

For food lovers, Southwest Florida can be a place rich in tasty cuisine, locally sourced ingredients and unforgettable tropical settings in which to wine and dine.

But anyone who has ever spent time on the other side of the table knows that running a restaurant is hard work, a task made even more challenging by the boom-and-bust cycle of the Southwest Florida tourist season. Yet some local restaurateurs seem to have the magic touch, a special ability to attract guests, send them out with a satisfied smile, and entice them back again and again. So what do these epicurean entrepreneurs know that others in their industry don’t?

Even David Rosendorf, a partner at Miami-based law firm KozyakTropin& Throckmorton, admits such wisdom can be difficult to pinpoint. The firm has a special focus on bankruptcy cases—including restaurant bankruptcy—and Rosendorf explains that in the past six months, he has seen a wave of restaurants file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Some of the most legendary eateries in the country have felt the sting of financial failing: In March, New York City’s famed Le Cirque, founded in 1974, filed for Chapter 11.

More and more, a restaurant that has survived more than 10 years is rare— “practically a unicorn,” Rosendorf explains. “For that mature restaurant, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to adapt and survive.”

Nationally, 60 percent of restaurants fail in the first three years—slightly fewer than 30 percent within the first year, roughly 19 percent in the second year and about 11 percent in the third year, according to a Cornell University study conduction by R.G. Parsa, Ph.D., who is now with the University of Denver Daniels College of Business. The numbers are cumulative percentages for chain and independently owned businesses.

But Southwest Florida doesn’t lack for its share of culinary landmarks, restaurants that have become near-fixtures on the dining landscape. Among those are The Veranda in Fort Myers, The Mucky Duck on Captiva Island, Bleu Provence in Naples and Ridgway Bar & Grill.

Want to know what makes a restaurant cook? Read on, and savor the secrets to success.

Know Your Niche

Fort Myers was a different town when Paul Peden bought the property that would eventually become The Veranda. It was 1978, and the number of restaurants in the area was few. No one had yet imagined meal delivery services, and big grocery chains weren’t offering a vast array of gourmet, ready-to-eat prepared meals, either.

All of those eventually arrived, creating more options for hungry diners—and more competition for upscale eateries such as The Veranda.

But The Veranda’s lasting popularity has been buoyed by what Peden explains is a clear understanding of its spot in Fort Myers. As local diners have more and more choices in how they eat, Peden says the secret to The Veranda’s long-term success hasn’t been about being trendy, but about keeping consistent.

“You’ve got to figure out what your niche is and stay in it. You can’t please everybody,” Peden says. “We try to stay true what we do at The Veranda, because it’s a unique product.”

White tablecloths, a gracious courtyard and a historic setting all combine to create an unmistakable Veranda experience, but so too does the professionalism of its wait staff, many of whom have been with the restaurant for more than a decade. The talents of the employees are another reason the restaurant has been such a long-term success, Peden says. (Paul Peden and his son Craig Peden also own and operate the Rib City barbecue restaurant chain.)

And although Peden says The Veranda knows consistency is key to its continued prosperity, that doesn’t mean the restaurant doesn’t reach for innovation where it fits. They’ve embraced social media, using Facebook to showcase the restaurant and its offerings, as well as special events and happy guest news, such as engagements and anniversaries that take place at the restaurant.

That push into social media is also helping The Veranda connect with the next generation of clients. After 40 years, the Veranda has become a multi-generational restaurant, Peden says, one where it’s not unusual for guests to say, “I came here with my parents and now I’m bringing my children here.” Making gentle tweaks to the menu to satisfy changing tastes is necessary, Peden notes, but those guests are coming to enjoy the same experience they had as youngsters, to make new memories with their family.

For that reason, Peden describes The Veranda as “evolving,” a place where the change is subtle, not chaotic.

“You can’t live in the past,” he says. “There’s no time you can say you’re done.”

Location, Location, Location

Restaurateur Andreas Bieri is unabashedly honest when it comes to revealing the secret of his decades-long success: Waterfront views are great for business. And the cozy, beachfront eatery he opened in 1975 as The Mucky Duck has a fantastic view of the exact attraction tourists travel to Captiva Island to enjoy—sun and surf.

“I’m not saying we are better than anybody else,” Bieri says with a laugh. “We are very, very fortunate.”

Since 1994, Bieri has also owned Captiva’s The Green Flash, a sister restaurant to The Mucky Duck. That restaurant is a bit more upscale, and he often offers to transport diners there by golf cart if they decide the wait at the Duck is too long. (They rarely do, Bieri adds.)

“They don’t mind the wait,” Bieri says. “I guess because of the tradition, they have to eat at The Mucky Duck.”

Of course, there’s a bit more to the Duck’s success story than just a great location. Like The Veranda’s Paul Peden, Bieri stresses consistency as being the key to success in Southwest Florida’s competitive restaurant biz. In the kitchen, Bieri’s restaurants have kept up with trends in gluten-free eating, making it possible for most items to be prepared in a way that accommodates gluten-free diners. But there are some items he would never dream of changing, such as the Green Flash’s famed shrimp bisque.

“This would be the biggest mistake I could make,” he says. “No matter how good [the chef] could make it, people would say it’s not the same anymore.”

Being a waterfront restaurant isn’t all smooth sailing, though. Increased proximity to water also means increased proximity to certain kinds of natural disasters, and those businesses that aren’t prepared to handle the fallout of those calamities face almost certain ruin. Fortunately, Bieri had financial reserves in place in 2004 when Hurricane Charley plowed across Captiva as a Category Four storm, causing serious damage to the resort community.

Afterward, lunches remained steady, as visitors came to the island for the day. But dinners slumped, as many of the resorts remained closed for repairs. Bieri estimates his restaurants saw a fifty percent decrease in sales for two years after the storm. Ultimately, the resort diners returned to Captiva, and when they did, their beloved Mucky Duck view was waiting.

Attorney Rosendorf praises restaurateurs who are able to build up a strong reserve fund, since it’s impossible to predict when disaster will strike. But he notes that a slow summer is almost inevitable in Southwest Florida, and those who don’t prepare are asking for a disaster of their own making.

“Every summer is slow here,” he says. “Every restaurant limps by. Not every restaurant owner or manager is prepared to deal with that.”

Be the Right Size

Bleu Provence in Naples is almost unrecognizable from the tiny French eatery it started out as 17 years ago. Indoors, it’s almost four times its former size and now boasts a wine room for sipping a libation before dinner or purchasing a bottle to take home. Outdoors, there’s a private patio area for enjoying evenings al fresco.

Yet, despite all these changes, it feels very much the same. It’s still quaintly decorated in blue and white, with posters of dream destinations in the South of France, and a lively and skilled staff. The classically French food is always fresh and delicious, and the vast, award-winning wine list is always worth sighing over. Somehow, Bleu Provence has managed to walk a line between cozy and expansive—with careful growth being the key to longevity.

“The main challenge of Naples is the season,” explains Jacques Cariot, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Chef LysielleCariot. Sons Clement and Kevin are managers. “There’s no possibility to make a living if you stay small.”

Cariot notes that the bulk of the restaurant’s earnings are made during the four months of season, January to April, and that most people wish to dine between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m. The Cariots discovered early on that they would have to maximize the space in their restaurant if they wished to capture as much revenue as possible during those peak times.

Rosendorf explains that successful expansion is often a difficult line for restaurants to walk; too often, they grow more quickly than their business can support, branching out before their organization is ready. Other times, restaurants don’t discover a way to maximize their available space as Bleu Provence did, leaving them unable to continue.

“A lot of time when we see restaurant failures, it’s because of overambitious expansion plans,” Rosendorf says.

But Bleu Provence has managed to grow with grace, hemming close to their original approach of providing an upscale—but decidedly unfussy—provencal bistro with an almost relentless attention to detail in the restaurant’s ambience, service, food and wine.

“It’s the way to success so far,” Cariot notes. “You never know what’s going to happen next. So we never take anything for granted. Zero.”

Give ‘Em What They Want

It’s probably no great surprise that all of our veteran restaurateurs mentioned the importance of excellent customer service, of making sure guests feel welcomed and loved, and of how no compliment or complaint should ever go unacknowledged.

But in many ways, customer service is more than just making sure a diner’s water glass stays filled; it means actually serving your customers. It means giving them what they want, year after year, and taking your ego out of the equation.

As a chef or restaurant owner, it’s easy to want to rush after the flashy new food trend, Tony Ridgway says.

“But if all you do is chase trends, that’s all you’re going to do. Chase trends. You need to be comfortable in your own skin,” says Ridgway, who has operated restaurants in Naples for 45 years.

With Sukie Honeycutt, Ridgway runs Ridgway Bar & Grill and Tony’s Off Third in Old Naples. Their sister properties at Venetian Village are Sukie’s Wine Shop at the Village and Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar.

The duo notes that they aren’t afraid of changing things or trying new recipes, but that it’s seldom a good idea to attempt a total makeover when guests already enjoy what’s on their plate or in their glass. Ridgway notes that many of the local restaurants that have succeeded through the years may feature different cuisine, but they do have certain commonalities—namely, they feature classically prepared dishes with locally sourced ingredients and a
similar price point.

In Southwest Florida, that’s what diners want, year after year. Not drama and flair, Ridgway says, just delicious food, prepared properly and served by a caring and conscientious wait staff.

“I’ve always hated sizzle over substance,” Ridgway says. “And any restaurant that we’ve ever been involved with, we’ve always been more into substance than sizzle.”

Don’t forget the importance of a great partner, either.

“We share a similar philosophy,” Honeycutt says. “We totally trust and respect each other.”

“You should have core values that are the same,” Ridgway adds. “We agree on the values of the restaurant. We agree on how we treat our people. We treat our people with respect.”

Rosendorf wholeheartedly affirms that statement.

“Even when you have a successful business model, what often causes restaurants to fail is the relationship between the partners,” he says.

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