Profile: Jeff Simmons

■ BY SUE ERWIN     

Jeff Simmons has spent 25 years working about every position at “The Temp” restaurant and bar on the island. He started out as a busboy in 1991 and is currently a partner/owner of the establishment.

“I had a friend who was a chef at the restaurant, and he mentioned there was a busboy position opening.

He told me to wear black and white and come out and apply for the job. So I showed up at 5 p.m., and I started working that night right then and there,” Jeff said. He was 19 years old at the time. Later he worked a waiter, cook, bartender and eventually a manager.

Originally from Pine Hill, New Jersey, his parents moved to the area when he was 17. He was a senior in high school at the time.

“My dad worked for a fiberglass corporation in New Jersey and it shut down. So he made a bold decision and moved the whole family to Florida,” Jeff said. His dad chose to retire in Port Charlotte, since he had visited the area before.

“I was not happy about moving. At that time, I wanted to move to downtown Philadelphia and join a band in a hip city, so moving here was a real culture shock,” he said.

He finished his senior year and graduated from Lemon Bay High School. Then he went to an audio engineering school in Fort Myers.

“I sang and played guitar in a band at the time, and I was really into music. So learning how to record and do live sound really interested me.” Jeff worked at The Temp while attending college, grateful that the owners were kind enough to work around his schedule.

“They were really great people to work for – very kind,” he said.

Jeff is now one of three owners who share the responsibility of making sure the establishment runs smoothly. They bought it and took it over in April of 2014. Andy Duncan and Kevin Stockdale are the other owners. All of them have worked at The Temp for many years. Jeff was general manager at the time when the former owners, Jim and Karen Grace, decided to sell the place. “We were long-time friends with the owners, and they knew we always wanted to buy it,” Jeff said.

As new owners, Jeff and Andy felt strongly about making Kevin a third partner, since he was the chef at the restaurant.

“Hiring a chef is tough, and we knew we had a great one. Kevin is a fantastic chef, his food is amazing. So it was a perfect partnership. We’re all working owners,” he said.

Three years later, the men have proved that they can run a successful business together and have fun while doing it. Kevin said it’s great to work as a team, because if one person wants to take a week off for vacation, the others will be there to cover. The owners currently have a staff of 41 people, which fluctuates to a lower number when the season winds down.

“I have some wonderful people who work here,” he said. When the space next door became available to rent, Jeff jumped at that opportunity and added a liquor store adjacent to the restaurant.

“We stock top-shelf liquors and everything from value wine to $400 champagne.”

Jeff said the transition to take ownership of the restaurant was a very comfortable one, and that the Graces really trained him well in regard to running the business.

“Even when they owned it, they were only here about half the time, because they felt confident that I and the staff could run it while they were away,” he said.

For visiting fishing enthusiasts, you can bring your fresh catch to The Temp and chef Kevin will prepare and cook it to your preference.

“He’ll even offer suggestions on what he thinks is best for the type of fish,” Jeff said. Jeff remembers back in the day when he could look out the front door of the restaurant and there was nothing but trees across the street. He realizes that The Temp is a big part of island history, and his intentions are to keep it just the way it is, changing the menu from time to time to see what people like.

“I feel like I am the current custodian of The Temp. I know I need to keep it the way it is, yet still tweak the menu and service. But some things will never change here. It will always have that old Florida feel,” he said.

Jeff lives in North Port with his wife Leilani and 11-year-old daughter Abigail. They have a dog, Luna, and a cat, Maya.

Jeff’s mom, Patricia, still lives in the same home they moved to in Gardens of Gulf Cove. Jeff has two older brothers – Jim, who lives in Sarasota, and Brian, who lives in Virginia. All three brothers have worked at The Temp in the past. When the restaurateur is not busy at work, he spends some of his spare time practicing Jiu Jitsu.

“My daughter actually got me interested in it. She started taking classes, so I’d go and watch, and then I started taking them with her. I really love it – I’ve been doing it for four years now. It keeps me young and somewhat in shape.”

He has earned his green belt and plans to continue on through the ranks, taking classes at a school in North Port.

“I only get to train once a week because of work, but my sensei is okay with that. It’s a very family- oriented school. I’ve made a lot of good friends there,” he said.

Jeff is a pescetarian and follows a strict diet of seafood and vegetables, avoiding all types of meat.

Although he hasn’t played in a band in almost a decade, he hopes to one day pick up the guitar again. Jeff said he loves the small-town feel of Boca Grande, which is like a second home to him after being a part of the island for 25 years.

“There’s nothing like this place. I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere else. I get to work where people vacation. It’s so beautiful here, and everyone is so friendly,” he said.

He said the most challenging part of running a business is the personnel, adding that he is fortunate to have such a great staff. “

We preach respect here. It’s expected. And if people can’t follow that rule, they probably won’t fit in very well here.”

Jeff gets to see his mom regularly, because she loves coming to the island. She stops in for lunch whenever she’s here. Jeff and his family are big fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have season football tickets and go to almost all of the home games.

You can walk in and grab a drink or order food anytime the restaurant is open for business, but reservations for dinner are highly recommended.