Bonnie Lowrey Steps Up to the Plate (A VERY Full Plate)
Author: Paula Magrini | Photographer: Anne
Impeccably dressed, perpetual smile beaming, arms loaded with assorted binders, utensils, laptop and one neatly-wrapped birthday gift, Bonnie Lowrey steps into another day. One of the island’s most vibrant hospitality ambassadors, the owner and new president of the Lowrey Group restaurants, Celebration Catering & Events and CH2 and CB2 magazines has a daily agenda that would easily exhaust her industry peers.
“Staying busy gives my life definition,” she explains. “I will continue to be in touch with my staff, my guests and potential clients all day long! When the momentum stops, that’s when I’m sad.”
Lowrey’s life did temporarily slow down when she lost husband, Pierce, in October. The two originally moved from Atlanta to Daufuskie Island in 1987 to retire from the demanding career of electronic publishing. Instead, they found themselves moving over to Hilton Head Island and embarking on a whole new career in the restaurant business, which later expanded to include a catering and event planning division and most recently a thriving lifestyle publication. A stable, well-loved company for more than 15 years, it was Pierce Lowrey’s pride and joy when he
Overnight, the Lowrey Group leadership became Bonnie’s alone. Even in the midst of two standing-room-only memorial services (one on Hilton Head Island and one in Buckhead), and while accommodating the needs of a large extended family in Atlanta, she didn’t miss a beat, conducting business as she traveled back and forth along Interstate 16 and orchestrating a major island fundraiser for military families just a few weeks after she lost her husband to a three-year-battle with skin cancer.
Amazingly resilient? Remarkably productive? Yes, but until now, Lowrey has avoided sharing any secrets to her success. “I do NOT want to be in the spotlight,” she repeatedly tells curious reporters. “Give the credit to my team. They’re the ones who make it happen.”
With some coaxing from her A-team and in response to an outpouring of notes and e-mails following the death of her dynamic other half, Lowrey recently agreed to shed some light on the shape of the Lowrey Group to come now that’s she’s minding the helm on her own. In the following interview, she shares her vision for extending the prosperity of a company that is both a legacy and inspiration for Hilton Head Island entrepreneurs.
Paula Magrini: Now that your official role is president of the company, how has your daily focus changed?
Bonnie Lowrey: Well there’s certainly a lot more ground to cover, but I see it as a wonderful opportunity to keep my hands-on approach to our business as we move forward with our goals. We’re trying to create the ideal paradigm in a tricky economy, allowing us to maximize the many resources of our company, from our growing catering and events team to our evolving publications. The year ahead will be exciting, with tremendous opportunity to reach out and touch the community, whether it be through events like the Concours d’Elegance and the Verizon Heritage or through the outstanding guest service we offer at all of our restaurants.
PM: The Lowrey Group is in the process of redefining its branding for the restaurant group. What steps are you taking to accomplish this?
BL: Last year, we decided to sell the Boathouse II restaurant, a move that will allow us to focus on the restaurant profile that has performed best for us. That profile is clearly reflected by the caliber of menu and service that is offered by Old Fort Pub, CQ’s, Antonio’s and the Ocean Grille. Additionally, we manage Backwater Bill’s Grill at the private club community, Hampton Lake. We were pleased to close on the Boathouse in the fall as we pursue new opportunities.
PM: How will the sale of the Boathouse II impact your day-to-day operations?
BL: We’ve been fortunate to relocate many of our Boathouse II staff members to various posts at our other restaurants, while we continue planning for the launch a new island restaurant concept this spring. We’ll reshuffle our company talents once we open the doors to our new dining experience. I feel lucky to have such a talented, versatile family of employees who constantly go the distance to make our customers feel special, regardless of their job titles.
PM: Can you elaborate on this new dining concept?
BL: I could tell you about it, but I’d have to ____ you! (she laughs, just kidding). It’s safe to say that the new offering will be very family oriented and casual but with a metropolitan flair—very hip and relaxed. We are working with the backdrop, which isn’t lacking in its views. There. I’ve told you more than I was supposed to.
PM: Any other changes or debuts on the company’s horizon?
BL: You bet! We’ve just introduced a new logo and service mission for our catering and events group, Celebrations. The catering service that began years ago with a one-man-band approach, headquartered at the Boathouse, is now a concierge-style company that offers brides-to-be and corporate event planners an incredible array of options for planning their events. Not only do we offer fantastic exclusive party venues, like our Windows on the Waterway, we’re now partnering with resort management companies, photographers, limousine services, florists—you name it—to create unforgettable events. You know, it’s all about creating great memories here on Hilton Head! (wink, wink).
PM: Speaking of memories, it’s been about 15 years since you and Pierce launched your company on Hilton Head Island. What kind of perspective does that give you?
BL: I’ve gotten to know the heart and soul of Hilton Head, and you might be surprised at exactly who that is. I was. Who would imagine that former CEO’s, sports stars, performing artists and other prominent leaders who have landed on the island through the years would be the ones to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to elevate our community. The volunteerism that happens here is amazing, and Pierce and I discovered that when we left our retirement cocoon and began our restaurant business. We weren’t the only ones who were supposed to be relaxing on the golf course but instead became devoted to building a better Hilton Head!
PM: The Lowrey Group is known to support a number of local charities. Which causes have won your heart and your support over the years?
BL: The first board that I served on was the March of Dimes, handling fundraising events and development. That led to other causes and a couple of board assignments. Near and dear to my heart are groups such as the Coastal Discovery Museum, Hospice, The Arts Center, American Heart Association, Hilton Head Hero’s, South Carolina Hospitality Association, Hilton Head Hospitality Association and recently Operation Rest and Relaxation.
PM: Obviously someone in your shoes wants to bolster the efforts of the Hospitality Association, but you take your commitment to a higher level because…?
BL: It’s the best way to set an example for other island businesses who forget that we’re only as strong as our destination’s appeal. Hilton Head Island has always had a certain cachet that draws families from up and down the East Coast and from Mid-Atlantic states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. They travel long distances because we have the right mix of climate, amenities and accommodations for wonderful family vacations and other gatherings. We need to continue marketing this formula despite the downturn in the economy. If we pull together through organizations like the Hospitality Association and the Chamber, we can collectively reach out to our repeat guests and generate new guests through special events and collaborative advertising. On behalf of our business, I’m promoting the island’s unique culinary experiences. It’s the best way to build interest in the shoulder seasons, through events like the Seafood Jazz and Brew in September and the Food and Wine Festival, March 1st through the 15th.
PM: As a successful businesswoman who has owned several companies and has survived previous economic downturns, what is your advice to other business owners?
BL: Keep the faith and be willing to adjust. Attitude has a lot to do with survival and, good or bad, it’s contagious. Times like these can be frightening and stressful, so staying on top of industry developments and continuing a dialogue with business colleagues are vital efforts. That’s why groups like the Hospitality Association exist and thrive.
PM: You sound as though your life goes on as it always has, but there have to be some surprises as you pick up the reins of the company?
BL: There have been surprises…incredibly thoughtful ones. Members of my staff have stepped up in ways I didn’t expect, on a personal level and at a time when I couldn’t have pulled everything together without them. They are like family to me. I turn around and they are right there, anticipating what is needed without words or direction. It has meant so much to me over the past few months and always will as we move forward, positive and passionate about what we do.
PM: So despite the change in your life, the passion is still there and you plan to carry on the Lowrey Group mission?
BL: Absolutely. Change is permanent. Thankfully, it inspires the process of re-evaluating the ways in which we reach our goals or achieve our mission. We’re not always prepared for life’s transitions, but how we react to them is what’s important. I’m flexible and open-minded, and I know when we all recover from this recession, we will be operating with a new business model and facing more discriminating customers. So my work is cut out for me and my team in the months ahead…and yes we do accept the mission.
PM: All work and no play?
BL: Heck no. I’m ambitious, but I believe in balance. I admit I’m up at 4:30 each morning and climbing into bed at midnight, but sometimes that’s because my grandchildren are visiting and one of them happens to be camping out in my bedroom. Not a day goes by when I don’t receive a text message from one of my kids or grandkids (I have seven). One minute I’m emailing a company memo, and the next minute I’m reading “I LUV U” on my cell phone, courtesy of my 17-year-old grandson in Atlanta. Our family gets together as often as possible, and we know how to have fun!
PM: Your energy level is impressive. Would you elaborate on how you manage to maintain that enthusiasm?
BL: Let’s blame it on the genes. Of course my staff keeps me hopping, from menu planning and budget meetings to greeting guests and sampling the latest cooking class concoction. I think my next stop is lunch with the publisher of CH2 today at noon…
And Bonnie Lowrey is off and running. It’s going to be another productive day!