It’s like a Broadway production that plays to a packed house nearly every night. The performance commands accuracy, quality, attention to detail and delivery. The pace is dizzying. The margin
for error is as thin as a runway model. And audience expectations run high.
After all, it’s dining out. As George Hart knows, it’s got to be good. Hart owns Mulligan’s Beach House restaurants in downtown Stuart, Jensen Beach, Vero Beach, Sebastian, Lake Worth and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea (which came first).
“I did it the hard way,” says the 55-year-old Jensen Beach resident. “To go from zero to where I’m at today has been a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, tears and hard work.”
Thirty-five years ago and fresh out of high school, Hart took charge of a struggling bar bought by his father, a former mechanic and home builder, and created a success—at age 19.
At his next gig, Hart quickly advanced to general manager, then regional manager, excelling at some of the best-known corporate restaurants in the nation. At 36, he opened a pizza shop in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. A year later, he bought the place next door and christened the first Mulligan’s.
On day one he served 80 people. Now, he serves 4,000 people daily. He employs 400. He’s involved in supporting more than 200 charities. He just added a second-story patio to the Jensen location. A father of two—daughter Gracie, 13, and son Austin, 23—he’s working with the City of Stuart on a referendum to extend the lease of that location (formerly Spoto’s) from six to 20 years. And he’s in discussion with investors about adding 25 more restaurants statewide.
The restaurant business requires some long days, doesn’t it?
Five years ago, I was working 14, 15 hours a day. I enjoy being around people, and that I can help all these young people who by the time they come to me have no experience. The restaurant helps turn boys to men and girls to women, and I try to help them be successful in society. I’m almost like a secondary father.
We hear complaints about millennials’ work ethics, but you employ a lot of young people.
If you look closely, you’ll find the ones that want to be helped. As much as we want to blame the millennials, I don’t think it started with the millennials. I think it [has] gotten a little worse, but our generation had problems too.
How do you inspire your staff?
I look them in the eye and say, “You’ve got to do your job. If everyone does their job, we’re successful. If one person doesn’t do their job, we fail.”
Who came up with the concept of Mulligan’s?
It’s a combination of 25 years of working for the companies I worked for. I took all the good things they did, combined it together and gave it a Caribbean concept. I’m smart enough to know I don’t know everything. I’ve had consultants come in, and I listen.
What’s the most important part of the job?
How the food is going to flow out of the kitchen. The most important thing we do is put the food in front of you. We’ve got to get it all together, and there [are] so many working parts. You have to be dedicated, work hard and really enjoy what you do. You can tell by my voice that I’m passionate.