By Elaine Stevens//
They met and worked together for a South Florida restaurant group in 1991. Today Beth and Tony Swigris are their own restaurant bosses in Gulfport, Mississippi. The 21-year married entrepreneurs operate two popular downtown eateries: Tony’s Brick Oven Pizzeria and SeaGrapes Wine Café. “You have to love this business,” says Beth, “because you definitely bring it home, to the kitchen and living room—and you go to bed with it.”
Those of us who grew up in the restaurant business could have warned the Swigris family about the restaurant becoming another family member, but as Beth puts it, “All goes well if we don’t lose our sense of humor.” Apparently this is their credo, because each and every time a customer enters their establishments, the two of them are always smiling. “You cannot control everything every employee does, right or wrong,” Beth explains. “We do our best,” she adds, “and help each other keep our game on every day.”
Believing in their product and concept, the Swigris family—which includes daughter, Anna, during college breaks–has managed to stay on track. (“She is the best hostess we ever had!” exclaims Beth with a mother’s pride.) The Swigris belief is evident by the consistency of service and quality at both businesses. Still, the question remains, why take the restaurant risk in the first place? The couple says, “Out-of-the-box thinking got our nerve up after Katrina in 2005.” The couple said the façade grant program convinced them to invest in the downtown area. “We wanted to do something good for ourselves and our community,” says Beth. Even though Tony gave up a secure casino position, the entrepreneur spirit did not overwhelm them. Beth kept her job at Roy Anderson Corporation until July 2014, so as she puts it, “There was some conventional stability still in the household.”
The restaurant business is also what they know best. Beth loves to entertain; Tony grew up in a family-owned tavern in Peoria, Illinois. That explains owning and operating one restaurant, but two? Beth says the SeaGrapes concept came about quickly when the space next door to the Pizzeria became available. “The upstairs area at SeaGrapes for special events and private parties sold me,” Beth explains. “And, we do love wine. So, ‘my baby’ was born and I took the wheel.” Though Tony predominantly handles the day to day operations at the Pizzeria, the Swigris’ tight-knit partnership in handling two restaurants is flourishing both personally and in business.
One continues to marvel at exactly how they do it, but as Beth explains they have come full circle in their 25 year relationship, working and living together. “We don’t sweat the small stuff, even the money,” she says. They have planned well and stayed focused. “…and we pay attention to each other—and laugh!”
The future is bright for Tony and Beth Swigris and for the customers they serve. They are already thinking ahead to more businesses—at least Beth is. “Doesn’t a bagel shop downtown sound nice…or maybe shoes…” She wanders off into that out-of-the-box thinking with her loving husband by her side.