Friday, 28 July 2017
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SARASOTA DINING

Clayton Thompson: Service Personified

‘You Can Solve All the Problems in the World at Clayton's'

Sounds like a sign one might see at a therapist’s office, or maybe a house of worship.  Not so. At Clayton’s Siesta Grille, proprietor Clayton Thompson can attest the slogan is  true! So confident is he, in fact, he has the slogan embroidered on his shirt.  (A story from February, 2016)

Ask him to sit down and chat and expect a good listener and kind words of wisdom. On anything from politics to business to life. Problems solved.

According to a regular Clayton’s customer Bill Reynolds, “something wonderful always happens at Clayton’s,” who jests with Clayton that this should be his slogan.  Speaking to Steve Wickens, a restaurant and hotel owner from Michigan and another Clayton’s fan, “I come in alone and I always end up chatting with someone and making friends…I really love coming here…and it will stand the test of time. Not to mention he has the best pizza in town.”

“Pizza!? We’re a seafood restaurant,” Clayton teases. He’ll tell you his favorite dish for ten years has been the trout almondine, but he also ‘has his eye on the salmon….mmmmm.’ Everything is fresh. He spends a lot on quality, fresh seafood – to the tune of up to $18 a pound for fresh scallops. And they even prepare fish that guests have brought in (filets only please). How cool is that?!

But the impressive food is only half the benefit in dining at Clayton’s. I don’t know about you but I could have the best meal ever but if the service isn’t up to par, it ruins the experience. Expect Clayton and his staff to pamper you with kindness and efficiency.

“If I have one passion, I want to see people do well,” Clayton said.  He has a mentoring program for high school students and he delights in “seeing how far they come from when they walk in here shy and insecure and they really turn around in just a couple months.”  It’s great to see how the young people grow,” Bill Reynolds said. “Clayton has a heart of gold. He’s the most generous and outgoing guy I know.”  Bill’s wife Connie added, “Clayton is a strong Christian and it shows in everything he does.”Clay3

Clayton dressed up in a cow suit at age 14 for his first job at Mr. Steak in south Sarasota. He admits to ‘having a strong work ethic’ and he went on to work every position in the restaurant business – from shucking oysters, prepping and cooking to bartending, serving and managing during his high school and college years. He still does all of that at his restaurant.

“I teach my staff by example,” Clayton said. “I care about everything from the table setting to the food and service and I do it all…I might be seen as a little OCD.”  It was obvious because he jumped up every five minutes to do something, from helping an elderly woman with her chair to more hand shaking.

Clayton’s features a ‘something for everyone’ ambience and menu in this cozy bistro. An inviting bar faces the kitchen prompting guests to enjoy a free-poured drink and to get to know one another. Next, long wooden tables accommodate large parties. Linen-clothed four tops and booths point to fine dining around the perimeter. And casual dining on the tiki-torch lit patio offers seating preferences for all tastes.

Ask Clayton to describe himself and he’ll reply, “I’m a huge God fan. I pray everyday. But I have fun too. I’m a social animal. A political animal. A golf maniac…I’m sure I’m a sinner.” he jokes.

With this he jumped up to adjust the heat setting on a porch heater for a table of retirees. He waved goodbye to several guests, calling them by name, who were leaving the standing-room-only restaurant on a Monday night. He shook some more hands and patted backs of others. He chatted with his hostess, then more customers.

Clayton Thompson poses with his hostess BaileyClayton started his restaurant in 2004 after a career in real estate. He sold his real estate business when government started stepping in he says. He claims he lost his shirt the first few years at the restaurant but he pursued and his persistence turned this struggling restaurant into one of the most popular spots on the island.  He attributes part of that success to his people-serving-personality; his dedication to mentoring his staff; and the fact that he has “the best chef in Florida (Dimitri Xinidis).

Several years ago a man came in for a job and Clayton commenced to sit him down for an hour, discouraged him to just be looking for a ‘job,’ and rather, encouraged him to start a small business. The man was struggling. But had a truck and a pressure washer. He followed Clayton’s advise. Did some ‘Gorilla marketing’ with flyers. Within six weeks made $6,000. And to this day runs a successful business.

Clayton is actually writing a book about how to start a small business with very little money and feels that Florida is abundant with opportunities for small service businesses to thrive.

It was a Monday night when I arrived for the interview and there was standing room only – not typical for a Monday night. But at Clatyon’s, nothing is typical. Particularly him.  It was the eve of Clayton’s birthday, and he said he’s probably coming to his restaurant to celebrate. He just turned 56.  But they won’t serve me a beer until 9,” he joked.

While he’s basking in the compliments he’s hearing tonight about his eatery, he tells me his greatest accomplishment is his ‘happy marriage of 27 years’ to his wife Diane. They have three children: Shelby 22, Clayton 25 and Logan 26, his oldest daughter who works for her father at the restaurant who he describes as ‘a piece of work in a good way.’  No one works harder than Logan and keeps a close eye looking out for Clayton and the restaurant. 

Clayton and his wife have a standing date night on Saturday nights. When the couple walk into a local restaurant, Clayton says “they look at me like I’m a lunatic,” (for leaving his restaurant on a busy night). But a regular Saturday night guest tells me “he leaves and it still runs like a top.”

On Clayton’s nightstand at home, you’ll find The Camel’s Den by Paul Bucchi and he loves reading anything about history or politics. Spare time isn’t much a part of his life, but he is starting to take more time off for his church, family, civic and community interests and a bit of U.S. travel.

Upon leaving, Clayton greeted some new visitors to ask of their experience.   One gent said very pointedly, “Whatever you’re doing…keep doing it.”

Visit Clayton’s Siesta Grille at 1256 Old Stickney Point Road; online at claytonssiestagrille.com.;  FACEBOOK or call for information and reservations at 941-349-2800. They’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on varied days of the week and also offer take-out and catering. 

Head Chef Dimitri, Clayton and Sous Chef Carlosphotos by Patti Pearson

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