Creating Connections and Togetherness
By Jordan Staggs | Photography courtesy of Quest Hospitality Concepts
There’s an inherent change that happens among people when they share a lovely meal. Tensions relax, new ideas form, and laughs are often abundant. Deep connections can be forged or renewed when we break bread together. To foster an environment and experience that allows these things to happen requires special care, and the restaurateurs, chefs, and staff who imbue such hospitality nightly deserve our utmost respect. Some places become integral characters in the story of a community, which is precisely what Jeremy and Angela Walton set out to create.
"I think food plays such a special part in our lives. There is something very real about the idea of creating community through food,” says Jeremy Walton, the creator and owner of Quest Hospitality Concepts, proprietor of The Citizen and the newly reimagined Fonville Press in the idyllic town of Alys Beach, Florida. After serving as the vice president of resort operations there since 2014, Jeremy found himself in the unique position to branch out to open his own restaurants in Alys Beach with the help of his wife, Angela.
The hospitality industry is part of the couple’s history. They met while both were working at NorthRiver Yacht Club in Tuscaloosa during their college years attending the University of Alabama, and the club later served as their wedding venue.
After graduating, Jeremy managed food and beverage and hospitality operations at several resort destinations, including the Cloister Hotel at Sea Island, Georgia, and Auberge Resorts and Montage Resorts at Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina. “Eventually, my many years in luxury hospitality operations led us to Alys Beach,” he shares.
“While working for Alys, I was tasked with helping to identify potential chefs and restaurateurs to become a part of the developing town center,” Jeremy continues. “After twenty years in hospitality and food and beverage, I developed many close relationships within the industry and started reaching out to several people to pitch the idea of opening some dynamic restaurants within Alys Beach. The more conversations I had with colleagues to sell them on the idea, the more it began selling me on the idea. I kept thinking. ‘Why wouldn’t we do this?’ I think Angie, even more than I, was the biggest proponent of the idea. She knew better than I did that this was the right place and time to leverage our experience to build a company. Quest Hospitality was born.”
Shortly thereafter came the inception of The Citizen, a modern coastal tavern in the heart of the resort community. Working with the Alys Beach team and the town planners at Khoury & Vogt Architects on the restaurant’s design, Quest Hospitality sought to bring a sophisticated, city-inspired dining experience to the area.
“The vision was to develop a design-forward restaurant where the experience was centered around three things: a big, beautiful bar, an immersive raw bar, and a wood-burning hearth in an open kitchen,” says Jeremy. Of course, a menu featuring fresh Gulf seafood and oysters from local and regional purveyors was also a must. Still, international influences and ingredients also play into the restaurant’s ethos and its patrons as being “citizens” of the world, not just the Gulf Coast. “Given that so many great food cities are situated near the coastline, we wanted to draw inspiration for the menus from any and all of those coastal cuisines.”
The vision was to develop a design-forward restaurant where the experience was centered around three things: a big, beautiful bar, an immersive raw bar, and a wood-burning hearth in an open kitchen.
Storytelling is also a focus at The Citizen, from the travel-influenced decor to the quotes printed on each menu and its team’s curated approach to social media. It all melds to create an experience diners feel they could have in a seaside pub along the Mediterranean, a dockside café in San Francisco, or an upscale Caribbean resort. Navy, white, and gold interiors evoke the nautical feeling, while rattan seating and a few warm wood accents add a laidback luxury vibe indicative of Alys Beach. “While we wanted the restaurant to be beautiful, we did not want it to be formal,” Jeremy reiterates. Ample seating at the bar and raw bar further amplify the sense that this is a gathering spot for lively conversation and good times, not stuffy special occasions only.
Jeremy continues, “People gather and connect differently when food and drink are involved. It is a part of our lives in the best of times and worst of times. It can connect people, console them, and sustain them. Markets, cafés, coffee shops, and bars all become these spaces where we gather and intersect with each other. We have the opportunity through hospitality to be a part of people’s memories, and in these moments, those of us working in hospitality can add to these moments or take away from them. For us and our team, the primary job is to build genuine relationships and create memorable experiences. At Fonville, we mean it when our motto says ‘For The People.’”
He is referring to Fonville Press, the storied Alys Beach café and market reimagined and reopened in 2022 after the original location closed in 2018.
For us and our team, the primary job is to build genuine relationships and create memorable experiences. At Fonville, we mean it when our motto says ‘For The People.
“I managed Fonville Press as part of the resort division at Alys Beach and very much loved the old Fonville,” he recalls. “I remember we frequently visited when we vacationed here long before I came to work at Alys. As many know, Fonville was a fixture along 30-A from 2005 to 2018. It was such a special part of Alys Beach, and when the decision was made to lease the space, I was charged with managing the transition. We worked to reassign the team members to other jobs, and I was there with the team on the last day. That was a hard day. But little did I know that moment would become the genesis for both The Citizen and the return of Fonville Press.”
It was that very day when Jeremy made what seemed like an offhand remark about hoping to see Fonville Press reopen with a new twist someday as part of the new Lucian building under construction in the Alys Beach town center. The gentleman he spoke to stopped him as he was leaving, Jeremy says, and offered to help invest in making that happen when the time came. Look for more from the newly reimagined Fonville in VIE’s April 2023 Culinary Issue!
Now with two thriving restaurants, Quest Hospitality has become a change maker, both through creating places for people to gather and connect and working with local foundations and organizations to help others in need.
“As a business, we want to be a positive force where we live and work,” Jeremy explains. “Serving our associates and the community was just as important as creating a sustainable business. We ask that any of our employees be willing to participate in our efforts to serve, which we contribute through volunteering, fundraising, and hosting charity events. If we can do what we do every day and use that to give back to the local charities which dedicate so much to serving others, it’s easy to say, ‘Yes, we will do it.’”
As a business, you want to be a positive force where we live and work. Serving our associates and the community was just as important as creating a sustainable business.
There’s much more to come from Fonville Press and The Citizen, and the Waltons are hopeful that other projects may be announced in the near future, so keep an eye out. Fonville just launched its breakfast and lunch menus, available from 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., along with new dinner offerings from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. and weekly live entertainment. Meanwhile, The Citizen has been updated with soundproofing to make for a cozier guest experience and launched a new weekend brunch menu and an oyster happy hour from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. daily.
“Fonville is just beginning, and in many ways, so is The Citizen,” Jeremy shares. “We are continually working from a bank of ideas to add new experiences and enhance what we offer in both locations. The creative part of what we do is what makes it fun. Trying new things, collaborating with others, and enhancing experiences are what we love to do.”
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Visit The Citizen and Fonville Press, now open in Alys Beach, or head to CitizenAlys.com and FonvillePress.com to learn more.