The man at the helm of Treasure Island dining jewel
When Troy, Ohio businessman and entrepreneur Larry Smith was asked by city planners to head up the centerpiece restaurant at the heart of Treasure Island Park on the Great Miami River, he said no.
Emphatically no, despite several requests.
Smith, who owned and operated Greentech Lawn and Irrigation, was just getting ready to retire, his three sons ready to buy him out, when fate and Troy officials tapped him on the shoulder.
They knew that in addition to Smith’s business background, he had deep roots in the restaurant world.
His son Phil Smith and brother Ron Smith, both with culinary degrees, were eager to help get the restaurant business started.
And the family previously owned and operated a five-star eatery, The Waterfront Restaurant, in Maui for decades. And Larry Smith’s father worked for Stouffer’s in a high capacity building restaurants.
Treasure Island creators knew all this when they asked Smith to help create a new restaurant at the hub of the park on the Great Miami, and they reeled him in like a big fish.
“The city approached me several times and I said no, I’m trying to slow down. Then the mayor got involved. He was the biggest instigator. Even though I kept saying no, no, no, he finally convinced me to at least take a look at the building,” Smith says.
The 1946 era boathouse looked more like a shipwreck than a treasure trove when Smith first laid eyes on it. “But I saw an opportunity.”
He tells the rest of the story of how Smith’s Boathouse Restaurant came to fruition in this week’s Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand:
Q: Let’s start at the beginning. Why did Troy planners of Treasure Island come to you to open a new restaurant at Great Miami River?
My family has deep ties to both Troy and the restaurant industry and they knew our history. I’ve had a very successful business in Troy. I started the Greentech Lawn and Irrigation company in 1984, and I’ve built it from two trucks to 30. As a businessman, I became very active in the Troy Area Chamber of Commerce.
Q: The Smith family also had deep restaurant ties that planners hoped to utilize.
Yes! Before my family moved to Troy, my father designed restaurants for Stouffer’s Foods. We were friends with the Stouffer’s family. But my father decided to leave to accept a director of sales position in Troy at the renowned Hobart Corporation. After that, he started a restaurant here called The Brewery and it was very successful for many years.
My father died at age 55, and the family moved to Maui and started The Waterfront Restaurant, which was open for 23 years. A lot of town officials from Troy had traveled to Maui and eaten at The Waterfront, and they’d also eaten at my Dad’s Brewery.
Q: What convinced you to finally say yes to the opportunity build Smith’s Boathouse Restaurant?
I’d been saying no, no, no to the idea. But the mayor finally asked me to at least come look at the building. Then he asked me to write up recommendations for the restaurant describing what I envisioned would be right for the atmosphere and food. And as I worked on it, I started to see the opportunity. I submitted a business plan, and to make a long story short, I put some money in and the city invested, and I decided to do it. The city invested about $2 million in the Treasure Island Park and $1 million into the Boathouse structure. The building required all new heating and cooling and a new façade and back deck. And I personally gutted and paid to renovate the kitchen, which was a disaster. (He invested a total of $300,000).
Q: What was wrong with the original kitchen?
It was inefficient, old, and poorly lighted. A center wall split the kitchen in half, and it wasn’t equipped to handle the volume we would be doing.
Q: Smith’s Boathouse Restaurant opened for business on Nov. 7, 2016. What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was meeting Health Department codes in the kitchen. Not for food quality reasons, but we had structure issues that related to having a concrete floor over the river. To meet their codes, we put more money into the kitchen than we anticipated. Other challenges we’ve encountered relate to the size of our bar. It’s really nice, but it’s just small. We’re a full-service bar, and it would work better if it were bigger.
Q: On the plus side, investors anticipated the need for more outdoor dining.
When we renovated the city put a lot of money into the outdoor deck. It’s beautiful. And we can seat 50 people! It’s right over the water, and we have two fountains in the water, and it’s a beautiful view of the city of Troy.
Q: What’s your secret for success?
My attitude about success is that customers will only give you one chance. They don’t give you two. Your friends and family will, but with restaurants, you only get one time to do it right. That doesn’t mean you don’t encounter setbacks. During our soft opening, our restaurant filled with smoke because our hood didn’t work. But overall, we had a great experience out of the gate.
Another factor in our success is that I show up, every night. Since we opened last November, I’ve missed two nights. Once because I had to attend a Cleveland function and another for a Chamber outing. I think people know it when you care, and they know I care, and want them to enjoy their experience at Smith’s Boathouse Restaurant. Another big key is the support of my wife and entire family, including my 82-year-old mother, as well as my brother and sister, who came over from Maui to help start the restaurant. — Smith’s Boathouse Restaurant uses Boxerbrand’s Linen Naturals collection in its menu presentation. Thank you!