Making the most of house money

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SKOB donates its collection of unique donations each year, and this time it is headed south to hurricane victims

By Hannah Wallace

Cash is just part of the atmosphere at Siesta Key Oyster Bar, where guest-signed dollar bills (and some larger denominations) adorn the walls and ceiling. It’s an homage to an old fishing village tradition, here performed with a sharpie and staple gun.
Traditionally, fishermen having breakfast (or a pre-launch drink) would fasten a bill to the wall of the tavern so that, should they return empty-handed, they could still buy themselves a beer at the end of the day. But at SKOB, which will celebrate 20 years in business in 2023, the money buys a lot more than a beer.

SKOB employees Olivia Durant and Christian Wise remove dollars from the establishment walls. (submitted photo)

On Nov. 2, SKOB general manager Kristin Hale drove a car full of colleagues 100 miles south to Bonita Springs in order to present more than $11,000 cash — plus dozens of cases of water and other donated items — to the 23 employees of the two Sanibel Fish House restaurants. All of that money came directly from the walls of Siesta Key Oyster Bar.
The cash accumulates year-round and usually hangs on SKOB’s walls for months at a time. Then, when space starts to dwindle and SKOB owners feel the time is right, they clear the walls, pool all the bills together, and donate them to a worthy cause.
This time, giving to victims of Hurricane Ian was an easy call. But the specific connection to Sanibel Fish House was more serendipitous.
“We have the same insurance company,” explained Hale. “When our owner (Beth Cipielewski) called our insurance company right after the storm, they mentioned that Sanibel Fish House had literally lost everything — two locations, inland and on Sanibel. The one on the island was completely destroyed.”
The money will be distributed among Fish House employees, most of whom are dealing not only with professional challenges but with personal loss and property damage as well.
“They still don’t have power. They don’t have water,” said Hale, remembering the shock of the drive south of Sarasota County. “It was like a war zone.”
Of course, SKOB is part of a large group of Sarasota-area restaurants (as well as other businesses and individuals) that have contributed money, aid, and fund-raising efforts to hurricane victims. The instinct is natural, said Hale, especially considering how close Siesta Key came to that same fate on Sept. 28.
“When I woke up that morning at 6 a.m., they were saying it was going to be a Category 5,” said Hale. “You consider that storm surge. It would have destroyed Siesta Key.”
The Fish House staff “come from a community that’s full of restaurants, like we do. It’s like a family,” she added.
When guests leave behind their signed bills, they can rest assured the money will be used for similar causes. Past recipients of SKOB’s wall money have included the Salvation Army as well as SKOB employees themselves. Sometimes a coworker going through hardship will be gifted $500 or so to help them through; other times, as with COVID-19 shutdowns, the entire staff receives aid from their restaurant’s own walls.
When it comes to a large-scale cash cleanout (as it was for Sanibel Fish House), SKOB managers and employees use a heavy-duty staple remover to take the ones, fives and sometimes twenties from the walls, ceiling, columns and wherever else they’ve been stuck inside the restaurant. The cash is then taken to Sarasota’s Crews Bank & Trust, where it’s counted and compiled for donation. Some bills have been damaged or defaced irredeemably, but Hale credits Crews for accepting the vast majority of them.
“I’m curious to see how long it will take to get our walls full again,” said Hale. “I’m guessing not long.”

Hannah Wallace
Author: Hannah Wallace

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