Editor’s note: This month’s Business Beacon is a spotlight on The Citizen at Alys Beach. Newly opened, The Citizen is a seaside tavern inspired by coastal cuisine around the world. We talked to owner Jeremy Walton about 30A’s latest and greatest eatery and what they mean by their tagline, “Life is an adventure.” Check them out on Facebook or Instagram.
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1. How did you get the idea or concept for your business?
JW: Having spent the last five years working with Alys Beach on the development of the town as the VP of Resort Operations, I was very excited about the future and growth of the town. Seeing the growth of Walton County and 30A overall made the decision to want to do a project like The Citizen very easy.
2. Let’s discuss numbers: What year did you open? How many locations do you have? How many people do you employ?
JW: Opened in 2021, 1 location.
3. What do you sell or what service do you provide? What’s your best seller?
JW: We offer coastal cuisine to our guests with exceptional service. Our best sellers include Whipped Feta, Roasted Avocado Salad, Roasted Grouper, and Murder Point Oysters.
4. What’s unique about what you do or offer?
JW: The Citizen is dedicated to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all, the restaurant team works hard to enhance the experiences of every guest that comes through the doors.
5. How would you describe your business to a potential customer?
JW: Inspired by coastal cuisine around the world, The Citizen is a seaside tavern located within the town center of Alys Beach, which is situated along Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A. Here, local and seasonal ingredients drive the inspiration for both the food and beverage program. Guests will have a choice between an 18-seat bar, a 12-seat raw bar, or the 120-seat dining room. The fresh and vibrant flavors of The Citizen will be showcased in a variety of menu items, many of which will be cooked over a wood-fired hearth, offering a nod to coastal, Southern fare.
6. What do you love most about your line of work?
JW: Although it is an extensive process, I truly enjoy all aspects of hospitality. I love the creativity and details of the design process, the challenge of planning and organization for an opening, working closely with the team and the opportunity to develop people, creating and executing the menus, and watching all of it come together in what we hope is all about creating memorable experiences for every guest.
7. What sorts of trends are you seeing in your industry?
JW: Right now for the industry, it is hope for better days ahead. Because of the pandemic, so many colleagues are having to regroup and recover from the last year and a half. As restaurants and hotels are excited to welcome back guests, there are so many in need of rebuilding their teams and securing staff for that to happen. This is a leading issue for almost everyone.
8. Tell me in just a sentence or two what you feel sets you apart from your competitors.
JW: Committed to finding purpose, The Citizen aspires to define what it means to be a “good citizen.” The restaurant team of creative and collaborative associates work hard to enhance experiences and apply those principles to one another and guests alike.
9. Who or what inspires you? This could be a family member or celebrity, a particular quote or even a book/movie/podcast. This sky’s the limit!
JW: I find inspiration in getting to work and collaborating with many creative people. With the opening of The Citizen, so many of my family members have gotten involved. Two of my children work at the restaurant and my wife, despite working in a different industry her whole life, has proven to be a dynamic natural inside the restaurant. It has been the most surprising and rewarding aspect, personally.
10. What’s the best thing about being a part of the Emerald Coast, personally and/or professionally?
JW: We are very grateful to get to live in such a beautiful area. Our children all enjoy making the most of the life here by surfing, hiking, biking and enjoying all that this area has to offer. We have made so many friends and truly appreciate the small town feel. We love that we can support so many of our neighbors who have business here as well. It is truly a gift to live here full time.
11. Are you/your business involved in the community in any way? Volunteering or giving back? If so, how?
JW: My wife was previously a special needs teacher (ESE), we give back to these kids by supporting the sports they play as well as assisting with Special Olympics. We hope to assist in the future with a work program for students wanting to go into the work force.
12. What does a typical day in your business look like? (Pretend it’s Monday (or Friday!) and take me through the highlights of your day.)
JW: Our tagline, “Life is an Adventure,” holds true for most workdays. Early mornings are my way of getting ahead. I arrive to the restaurant before anyone, allowing me to get focused and be productive early. From there, we try to plan and organize for lunch and dinner. I like to start in the kitchen with the culinary team and the deliveries, as well as welcoming the first staff to arrive which hopefully sets a positive tone for the day. The opening manager and I will connect on the day to see what lies ahead. I try to engage the team members throughout the day to see how they are doing personally and how we can improve. Collaboration is set as a core value in our team because we want the people doing the work to be part of the process of improving what we do. Feedback is such an important part of refining what we do and how we do it. We focus on people, product, and then the financials. I try to be available to study and act on all three areas each day. 4:30 p.m. starts line-up with the dinner service team and 5 p.m. is ‘go time’ for dinner. I like to work the Expo window because we designed the location to allow one to see 90% of the restaurant from one spot: the kitchen, raw bar, host stand, bar, and the dining room. It is a hub of activity that allows me to see and control the pace of the restaurant. I can in between rushes make rounds, speak to the team and our guests. I like to see service close up making sure no details are missed. There is a real energy that comes from a great service. It is a high point to finish a night working alongside the team and seeing it wind down back to the calm I so enjoy in the AM. And the next day, it begins again.
13. What’s your best “insider tip?” (This could be a community tip for vacationers or homeowners or even a tip for customers related to your business.)
JW: When I travel, I love to eat at the bar. Some of my best experiences, conversations, and new friendships have started with eating at the bar. The Citizen was always envisioned as a bar that serves food. Everything was built around the idea of eating at the bar. Arrive early, grab a seat at the bar, and ask for recommendations.
14. How do you recharge or relax when the day is done?
JW: One of the advantages of being by the ocean is getting to break away and go to the beach. I love to head there early or later when you can enjoy it without the crowds.
15. Just the deets please! Where are you located? Business hours? Social media profiles and/or website links we need to know about? (Please feel free to add social media handles or direct links!)
JW: 20 Mark Twain Lane, Unit #101, Inlet Beach, Florida. Open Monday to Saturday, 4:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., closed Sundays
16. One final question: If there was just one thing you wish the public knew about your business, what would it be?
JW: I know this is not unique to just The Citizen; on occasion when a guest visits a restaurant and things don’t always go as scripted or to how the standards are set, it is difficult when they write a scathing review without ever having tried to communicate with the manager or owner while they were in the building. I wish the people that felt compelled to write these unkind words were able to understand all that goes into executing a great restaurant. We are always happy to be accountable for when we don’t get it right. Moreover, if communicated, we will work right then and there to make it right to the best of our ability. I always struggle with knowing that so many of our team and our peers in our industry have to read these comments when I know the effort they put forth to try to make every experience a great one. I would wish that everyone who desires to offer feedback has the intention to build up and not tear down.