September 2008

Remote Control for the Kingfisher

Author: Ann DeMart

Distant operational decisions and menu creation are a way of life for national chain restaurants. But for the Stephenson siblings, remote management of the Kingfisher Seafood, Pasta and Steak House, a popular Hilton Head Island establishment, is an exciting new challenge.

Paul Stephenson, who was a constant presence at The Kingfisher, passed away last May, but his children continue to run the family-owned restaurant from Phoenix, Arizona (where Ann, Mark and Todd Stephenson live) and San Francisco, California (where sister, Sue resides) with the help of local general manager Greg Vittetoe. We asked Mark and Todd about the appealing and successful Kingfisher, and how they manage operations from their western locales.

CH2: How would you describe the Kingfisher?
Todd Stephenson: The Kingfisher offers more than almost any restaurant on Hilton Head. The affordable menu features fresh seafood (cooked your choice of five different ways) and a wide variety of pasta and grilled steak selections. We’re one of the few island restaurants to offer live entertainment, including magic shows, jazz, classic soft rock, and dancing. We have waterfront views of Shelter Cove Marina, a delightful area to visit before or after dinner. We’re also very affordable, with 14 entrées less than $15 and kids meals under $5, as well as Early Bird and nightly specials.

CH2: Are any of you managing restaurants where you live?
Mark Stephenson: Nope, none of us. But, we’re enjoying this so much that each of us has commented that if we didn’t have our own careers, doing this fulltime would be a lot of fun.

CH2: What do you do?
MS: We’re a pretty diverse family. I own Jaguar Office Technology, a computer and data networking company in Phoenix. Our sister, Ann, is an artist, making a living painting and working in various media. Sue, an advertising exec in San Francisco, is also a fitness guru and karate expert in her spare time.
TS: I am president of two corporations in Arizona and have a master’s degree in business. Operating a business is not foreign to my brother or me.

CH2: Did you have any restaurant experience?
TS: When I was younger I worked in a kitchen and dining room at a country club and then again, part-time, in a restaurant in Arizona ten years later. Mark was a busboy at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel years ago.

CH2: Were you very involved when your father was running things?
MS: When we visited, our dad would go over the books and show us how he did things. We’d make suggestions, but the Kingfisher was his baby. He’d go in every night and chat with his friends and the guests. We didn’t take the reins until August 2007, when Dad was slowing down. We met with our general manager, Greg Vittetoe, and head chef, Jaime Glynn, and jumped in with six feet. (Ann didn’t make the trip.)

CH2: What do you most like about the restaurant?
MS: Location, location, location. It’s really a beautiful setting, looking across Broad Creek. And, the entertainment is great.

CH2: Did you make any changes?
MS: First, we refreshed and updated the appearance. It didn’t look bad before, but it looks great now. Sue suggested we list our advantages like the waterfront setting, award-winning seafood, central location, free access, etc. That became our “10 Reasons to Dine at the Kingfisher” ad campaign. As we did that, the menu took shape. Here, Todd’s experience really came in handy. Great food and reasonable prices draw people in, so we added menu items and lowered prices.
TS: The new marketing and management direction we implemented has resulted in record-breaking success at the Kingfisher.

CH2: What are the challenges of remote management?
MS: It would be almost impossible to run the Kingfisher remotely without the Internet and QuickBooks Online to monitor daily operations. But, the big challenge is making sure everyone is having an excellent dining experience. That’s hard to do from Arizona or California. Greg does a great job, but we often wish we could be there doing what Dad did.”

CH2: Are there any advantages?
MS: Because we aren’t there every night, when we come to the restaurant, we see things as a customer would. At the same time, we also have a stake in the island and its future, like residents. It’s a unique perspective that helps us extend the hospitality and beauty of the island to every guest.

CH2: Who operates the restaurant locally?
MS: Our fantastic staff—general manager Greg, head chef, Jaime—really everyone from hostesses to the servers to the kitchen staff does their job well. Greg has been here for 16 years and Jamie five. We have staff members who have been here since the restaurant was the Commodore, 20 years ago.

CH2: Anything else you’d like to mention?
TS: The “10 Reasons to dine at the Kingfisher tonight” list is presented on our Web site, kingfisherseafood.com.

Mark: The restaurant and entertainment business is a friendly business, and our goal is to make every guest happy. We understand why Dad enjoyed it so much.

Q. Why Hilton Head?
A. It’s a beautiful place with a great mix of residents and visitors.

Q. Reservations or no reservations?
A. Not required, but recommended.

Q. What inspired your menu selections?
A. Fresh seafood, pasta and steaks at great prices.

Q. Most unique entrée?
A. A build-your-own-dinner with add-ons such as meatballs, chicken, shrimp, salmon and lobster to salads, pasta and steaks. That’s been a big hit.

Q.* Attire?*
A. Casual.

Q. Should I save room for an appetizer or dessert?
A. Of course!

The Kingfisher Seafood, Pasta and Steak House is located at 18 Harbourside Lane at Shelter Cove. For more information, call (843) 785-4442 or visit kingfisherseafood.com.

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