SAVANNAH'S JENNIFER HUSKEY, co-owner of the Gaslight Restaurant Group, is about to receive a Generation NEXT award from Savannah Magazine and Business in Savannah. The award goes to the area’s top 20 leaders under 40. Huskey got the nod in part because Gaslight has branched out from a single location in 2006 to four concepts: B. Matthew’s Eatery, Blowin’ Smoke BBQ, Abe’s on Lincoln and the Blue Turtle Bistro.
Huskey was working as a contributing online editor for HGTV (Home & Garden Television) when she and her husband, Brian, opened B. Matthew’s. She became the driving force behind the concept’s design and architecture, and as the group has grown, she has focused on making their restaurants hip local institutions. We asked her to explain the group strategy.
RH: Describe your approach to concepts.
Huskey: Our goal at Gaslight Group is to create and maintain successful restaurants with perfectly executed menus and high-quality dishes. At the same time, we strive to create places to gather, socialize, and enjoy a relaxed and inviting atmosphere.
Our approach to each restaurant project is to create places we would like to frequent ourselves. We thrive on creating welcoming, customer-friendly spaces that represent the area. Through this, we are looking to attract a new generation of customers by integrating innovative interior and architectural design into each restaurant. We have worked with the local historic review board to make significant cosmetic improvements to our buildings.
Adding to the visual aspect, our menus vary with each setting and environment and attract locals and visitors alike. We cater to both local residents and visitors, with changing weekly specials, attractive prices and outstanding quality. Our menus, which are based on a fresh take on Southern cuisine, are innovative, healthy and based around local sources.
Gaslight takes great pride in our consideration of our employees, customers and community. At each Gaslight business we try to create a positive working environment and train our staff to be knowledgeable, super friendly and accommodating. We host special events such as “Yappy Hour, which provides fresh-baked doggie treats to customers who bring their four-legged friends to the outdoor areas at each restaurant. And Gaslight Group has had the privilege to be involved with many local causes, and we are always looking for opportunities to give back to our community.
Pricewise, we have something for everybody: burgers and BBQ at Blowin’ Smoke, moderately priced lunches at the Blue Turtle Bistro and signature dishes at B. Matthew’s Eatery. We cater to college students, families with kids on a budget and fine dining patrons. And we are very versatile, not only with the different restaurants in the group, but also within the same restaurant. For example, the Blue Turtle offers beer dinners and wine dinners to two totally different target groups.
RH: Do you try to promote the portfolio as a group, or individually?
Huskey: We have recently started to promote them as a group, but we still honor each restaurant’s individuality. What we want to project is the consistency in ownership, customer service and the quality of fresh, healthy ingredients at all of our restaurants, and have them “ feed” off each other.
RH: What do you consider your strong suits as an owner and restaurant operator?
Huskey: Maintaining a hands-on approach at all of the individual properties. Monitoring cash flow on a day-to-day basis. Embracing the changing environment of our business instead of fighting it.
RH: Why do you think you’ve been able to grow your business during a time when many operators have been struggling?
Huskey: We have always attempted to be as accommodating as possible. While it is impossible to please everyone all the time, we strive to not alienate any part of our potential guest demographic. Our employee retention is key to our success. Putting them first has been our focus.
RH: What’s on the horizon?
Huskey: We are always tweaking our concepts from the menu to the aesthetics of the properties. And we’re in the process of purchasing the building where B. Matthew’s is located. It is a very exciting opportunity for us.