About Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market
A Brief ‘Fishtory’ of the Timbers
On October 24, 1978 a one hundred and fifty seat steakhouse opened its doors at 975 Rabbit Road on Sanibel Island, Florida. The Timbers, named for the beautiful wooden beans and ceiling, was a joint venture of Jim Keiser of Naples Florida, and brothers Jim and Kipp Foster of Pittsford, New York. Twenty-five year old Matt Asen from New York City, New York was hired as a general manager. Here’s how it all began…
1973- Jim and Kipp open their first restaurant, The Rusty Nail in Cortland, New York. The brothers hire twenty year old Cortland College History major Matt Asen, a.k.a. “the waiter with the pink bow tie!”
1974- Having graduated college, Matt returns to start his career as a high school history teacher, while also driving a cabin Manhattan. He returns to the Rusty Nail where he begins cooking and bartending.
1975- Jim and Kipp open Millyard in Manchester, New Hampshire. Matt Remains in Cortland.
1976- Jim and Kipp open 300 Derby Street in Salem, Massachusetts. Matt is hired as the dining room manager. Michael Schilling is hired as a waiter before becoming a bartender and eventually bar manager.
1977- Jim and Kipp open F. Parker Reidy’s in Portland, Maine. Matt remains in Salem.
1978- Jim, Kipp, and Jim Keiser, owner of The Pewter Mug in Naples, Florida open The Timbers. Matt moves from Salem to become the restaurants general manager.
With their restaurant experience, the three partners decide The Timbers menu would feature mostly steaks and shrimp, with red snapper being the only fish item. It didn’t take long for Matt to see that his customers wanted fish, and they wanted it fresh. He would drive his Toyota hatchback to the docks on Ft. Myers Beach, cash in pocket, and buy whole fish off the boats. With guidance from a few ‘old salts’, a sharp knife and a lot of practice, ‘Matt the Fishmonger’ was born! Guests would often inquire, “Is the fish fresh?” One night, the man who coined the phrase “We serve it fresh….or we don’t serve it at all” dropped a twenty five pound grouper on the table of and inquiring patron. Other guests were requesting whole fish at their tables, so they could see ‘the show’ as well. Fish was suddenly fun, and as the legend of Matt’s antics grew, soon he would be seen parading fish through the dining room nightly. As a business increased, the quantity of fish needed, forced partners to buy Matt a used pickup truck. The story of Matt filleting a one hundred pound swordfish in the back of that pickup truck in Baileys parking lot is not a myth, it’s true!
1980- With waiting lines literally going out the door, an empty building next door was leased, and Twigs Lounge which featured a piano bar was opened. A Valentine’s Day promotion featuring free oysters for waiting customers, found Matt and his cousin shucking over fifteen cases of oysters from an old sunk that had been set on wheels. The idea was so popular, that a full time raw bar featuring cooked items was opened and named Twigs Lounge & Raw Bar.
1981- With so many requests to buy fish that guests could cook at home, Matt convinced his soon to be partners to let him use the former six seat waiting room as a retail fish market. Using a second hand delicatessen case, Matt worked the counter selling fresh fish, shellfish, and top quality steaks. With a fish market sign now hanging below The Timbers roadside sign, the first of many ‘run-ins’ with code enforcement officer Dick Baker would follow. In this case, Matt decided to avoid any conflict with the city of Sanibel, and changed the legal name to The Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market.
1982- The success of their restaurant concept prompted Jim, Kipp, and Matt to open The Prawnbroker Restaurant and Fish Market in Fort Myers, Florida. Michael Schilling joined as the managing partner. Additional Prawnbrokers were opened in Stuart (1985), Marco Island (1987), and Bradenton (1989).
1988- In year ten, of a fifteen year lease, negotiations to extend the lease of the islands most popular eatery began. Stalled negotiations made it apparent that the landlord wanted the location on Rabbit road for himself. The partners began a search, looking for a location for a new building.
1990- A vacant lot at 703 Tarpon Bay Road was purchased. Construction began on a 12,000 square foot building.
1991- The Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market opened in July at its new location, with the Sanibel Grill housed in the same building. The Grill was the island’s first sports bar, and had a casual menu and atmosphere. Like Twigs, it was designed as a waiting area for The Timbers. The Sanibel Grill became less of a waiting area, and soon established itself as one of the island’s busiest restaurants.
With great thanks to hundreds of dedicated employees and to the two million plus customers, we’re sure the story will continue on to future menus. We look forward to your continued patronage and would like you to remember, at The Timbers, “FISH HAPPENS!”