NAME: Rhett Fischer
COMPANY/Title: Rusty’s Seafood & Oyster Bar
YEARS IN BREVARD: 40
On a typical day, what types of tasks and responsibilities do you tackle at Rusty’s?
I basically do anything to make our staff successful, from bartending, to bussing tables, to running food, to hosting, to washing dishes, as well as marketing and promotions and community relations.
What do you enjoy most about working in the restaurant industry?
I would have to say working with our employees; we are truly a family. Our employees love coming to work, and I believe that happy employees equal happy customers.
What is the most challenging aspect of your JOB?
We work hard so that our customers can just relax. Joe Penovich, who owns Grills, once told me to treat each table as if they are on a mini-vacation. That is hard to do sometimes – being in that good mood all the time – but you find a way through it. A big challenge in this industry is surrounding yourself with good people and good employees. On the marketing side, social media has been a tough one. Everything is “instant” now, so you must be resilient online and check your reviews. Couponing is another hurdle – there are many of them out there and you must use them, but the customer always wants more.
How do you see Rusty’s growing beyond 2015? What new developments will be coming?
John Walsh has become a leader for not only the Port, but the retail area of The Cove. His vision is making this area expand and thrive. Expansion is the best word I can use for the future of Rusty’s – we will be expanding our kitchen and bar, along with other facelifts after this upcoming season. It will all be very exciting.
What do you believe sets Rusty’s apart from other restaurants in Brevard?
Our differenciator is the fact that we have employees who have been here longer than even I have, and our turnover is very low. I go out of my way to make sure the employees are taken care of, and our tradition is key in having repeat customers. My dad’s (Rusty Fischer’s) legacy is tough to live in, but at the same time, I love to relive it. Customers and employees really appreciate the nostalgia that covers the walls and infuses the atmosphere.
What challenges is the restaurant industry facing today, especially in Brevard?
My main concern is the seafood industry, honestly. It’s very challenging to find fresh, especially local, seafood, as well as oysters. People have to understand this and take care of our rivers and oceans. We have to consistently research where to get good, fresh fish and it’s very difficult. The days of getting fish through the back door are over, and prices reflect that at times.
How did “family legacy” influence you personally and professionally?
I did everything I could to not be in this business. Eventually, I realized that I must keep the family business in tact. My grandfather and uncles fished these waters in the Port since the 1940s. People love tradition, as do I. Our employees, as well as our customers, are family. If you look at the walls of the restaurant, it’s filled with legacy. I tell the employees all the time that we’re making history and we will all miss this one day, so to enjoy it.
What lessons did you learn from your father and great uncle along the way?
My dad has a knack for being cool under pressure and the ability to be patient. I am now trying to work on both. I never met Bernard (my great uncle), but my Grandpa Lou and Uncle Ronnie are very inspiring. Not many people get to share an office with their dad and run a healthy business. I have the chance to learn day-to-day from my dad. He has always made me work for what I am receiving. It’s a great lesson.
You’ve described the restaurant’s atmosphere as a “family.” Why is that important to you as a business owner?
Quite frankly, many of my employees don’t have a family, and we provide that for them. In turn, I believe they treat us the same way. It’s a theory that we believe in and works for us. Thus, the 67 years of proven success in the family restaurant business. My dad passed that trait on to both of his sons.
How is your location at the Port strategic for business? How do you see the area growing in the next 5 years?
I see the Port growing into a destination, where people will go out of their way to come and visit the area. Many people from Orlando come here before and after the beach. All of us in business here at the Port are family. We share ideas, advice, and opportunities. We look out for each other. I believe that is a recipe for success. We all succeed and we all thrive as a team. We are blessed out here, and the recipe for all of this is family.