Florida restaurant searching for mystery diner who left $10,000 tip
Ross Edlund thinks the customer's name might be Bill or Bob.
Edlund, who owns the Naples-based Skillets restaurant chain, knows the man likes to eat on the patio with his laptop on weekdays when the weather is nice. On weekends he brings his family for brunch.
Last week, a day before Gov. Ron DeSantis forced dining rooms statewide to close, the mystery Skillets regular handed a stack of cash to the manager at the store in The Pavilion on Vanderbilt Beach Road: $10,000 in cash, to be exact.
"We don’t know who he was yet. I’m trying to figure it out," Edlund said.
"It's funny because we have regulars who have been coming in forever, and they're our friends but we don't always know their names. We know their faces, their orders, their favorite tables, but we don't know exactly who they are."
The 20 staff members at The Pavillion restaurant split the $10,000 tip, pocketing $500 each. The next day most found themselves out of work as the 25-year-old restaurant closed its nine dining rooms from Naples to Fort Myers and Venice.
Edlund estimates he's had to lay off 90% of his 200 employees.
He closed his 5-month-old Venice store due to lack of business. He's kept the other eight restaurants operating as takeout services with a skeleton crew of two-to-three employees per location.
"To-go was only about 5% of our sales before all this," Edlund said.
"I look at the McDonald’s next door and cars are lined up around the block, because that’s what they do. That's what they're built for. Breakfast here is an experience. It’s about getting out of the house and letting someone else take care of you. We can't offer that now, but we're trying to do the best we can."
While the $10,000 tip was the most benevolent act his teams have seen, it's hardly the only one.
Edlund said his servers saw a slew of generous tips last week, and continue to see them as regulars pick up orders for takeout and curbside carryout.
Another regular, who's dined at Skillets since its first store opened near the corner of Pine Ridge and Airport-Pulling roads in 1995, handed Edlund an envelope early last week. The front read: "Do not open unless you close." Edlund opened it Friday afternoon and found $150 cash. He distributed the money to his employees.
"We're taking it day by day," Edlund said.
"We’re making sure no one loses their health benefits. We're counseling our staff on how to apply for unemployment."
While searching for the $10,000 mystery donor, Edlund is also watching the $2 trillion coronavirus bailout bill move through Congress. He's happy to see the bill is allocating more money to workers, not just big businesses.
"These people deserve it," he said. "It shouldn’t all go to the top. It should go to people who make life happen on a day-to-day basis. They are the hardest hit. They need this money the most."
Eight of Skillets locations from Naples to south Fort Myers are open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. daily for takeout and curbside pickup. Find the menu and more at skilletsrestaurants.com.
This story originally published to naplesnews.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.