Tell me a little about your business and its restaurants.
Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q has been an iconic Jacksonville institution for over 72 years. We serve authentic pit BBQ, cut to order and served with a heartfelt approach to customer service.
Willie Jewell’s is a fast casual version of Bono’s, started in 2009, and has grown to 15 locations around the country.
We also have an upscale catering company, Pastiche Catering & Events, which complements our traditional BBQ catering and allows us to serve any style of event from no ties to bowties.
We have also launched a seafood concept, the Aiken Fish House in Aiken, South Carolina, and are working on one as we speak in Peachtree City, Georgia, called Peachtree City Yacht Club. Needless to say, we love food, we love people and we love serving our community.
Tell me about your background, how you got to where you are today.
I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, went to high school in Connecticut, graduated from Vanderbilt in 2000 and law school in 2003. I always knew I wanted to use my law degree in a business environment, rather than a court room, but I admit I never knew it would lead me to restaurants and the hospitality industry.
My father is Italian, and my mother is originally from Poland. The food being cooked in our house every night was incredible, and I would love to do my homework in the kitchen. Subconsciously, the impact of that experience growing up – the love, happiness and camaraderie food represented for me – lit a fire inside of me that has burned ever since.
The Adeeb family gave me the opportunity to live out a dream, and I am eternally grateful.
(The Adeeb family name is synonymous with the restaurant industry in Jacksonville. From the Sea Turtle and Green Turtle back in the day to the Beach Diner, Strings Sports Brewery and Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q today, the Adeebs have served this community both inside and outside their respective restaurants for generations.)
COVID-19 has presented many businesses with tremendous challenges. How have you met these, and how have you helped your employees through this time?
COVID-19 has taken its toll on many industries and has shown no mercy for the restaurant business. We have seen our dining rooms get restricted to 10%, shut down completely, brought back to 25%, 50% and now full capacity. Albeit temporarily back in March 2020, we furloughed much of our service staff due to a lack of in-house guests and dining room restrictions.
We helped our employees get set up on unemployment, which proved to be a difficult and frustrating task. Many of our employees who were furloughed did not receive a check for 6-8 weeks.
The restaurant industry ended 2020 with total sales $240 billion below the forecast for the year. As of Dec. 1, 2020, more than 110,000 restaurants/bars were closed for business temporarily or for good.
The good news is that we have been at full-strength for many months. Our team has shown incredible resilience in the face of all these challenges, and I am humbled by the efforts they made to ensure we continued to serve our community.
How have other businesses and organizations helped?
Jacksonville is a community like no other I have ever experienced. It is easily the most philanthropic and communal city I have ever lived in.
Early on during the pandemic, we reached out to our partners, vendors and manufacturers to see if they could offer food donations to support our employees who were out of work. The outpouring of generosity was awe-inspiring and confirmed the goodness of so many people we get to work with every day.
Our partners at the Jaguars, Jumbo Shrimp, Icemen, JU, UNF and local radio stations all put out positive and support-inspiring messaging on our behalf, helping to promote our takeout and delivery business during our time of need.
Tell me about your work with Feeding Northeast Florida and Project Share.
Serving on the board of Feeding Northeast Florida, it became apparent there was a dire need to feed the seniors in our community who were at risk and unable to leave their homes. They were food-insecure and had no way of being provided with healthy meals.
We were able to create Project Share, and through the generosity of organizations like the Chartrand Foundation, VyStar, The Insetta Family and many others, grants were procured to deliver food from the Food Bank to local restaurants. That food was turned into tens of thousands of healthy meals for seniors, at-risk children and many others.
Many restaurant employees were able to come back to work and receive a paycheck while literally producing life-saving meals for those in need. The soul and purpose of this project lifted our employees’ spirits during an otherwise stressful and anxiety-laden time.
What do you like best about living in Ponte Vedra?
I love waking up every morning and watching the sun rise over the beach. I love raising our family in such a friendly and nurturing environment. I love the friendships and fellowship of this community. There was a time in my life when I could not point to Jacksonville on a map, and now I am a walking bumper sticker for the place.