As seen in Hilton Head Monthly, August 2004 issue
Fire Up the “Skillets”…
While common clichés suggest that you should make lemonade when life hands you lemons, or look for the silver lining in every dark cloud, it can sometimes be much easier said than done. When local restaurateur Amie Baima’s beloved Skillets was condemned after a devastating fire, she not only made it back, she took her restaurant to the next level and learned some important lessons along the way.
Since its opening about ten years ago, Skillets has been a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Its unique presentation of delicious breakfast and lunch dishes served in skillets (hence its name), along with a friendly staff, earned Skillets a great reputation as one of the “don’t miss” eateries on the island. Baima, who also owns Coligny Bakery, first got the idea for Skillets from folks who stopped in and asked where they should go for eggs and bigger breakfasts. This gave her the idea to open a restaurant that served just such items, and Skillets was born. Skillets offered made-to-order items, such as breads, biscuits, and bagels, that all came from Coligny Bakery, where they were baked daily. Things went well for Baima and her staff, which included her parents, John and Darlene.
Tragedy unfolded just after 2 p.m. on an ordinary day in March 2003 when a devastating fire struck. The fire actually began in the adjoining Alligator Grille restaurant, then spread to Skillets, which was serving its lunch crowd. Baima had just left to pick up her son from school and had no idea anything was wrong. On her way back, Baima got stuck in traffic. Fire trucks were everywhere. Then, Baima’s cell phone rang. Her father told her she needed to return to the restaurant and Baima told him she would if the fire trucks would get out of the way. When John replied that she really should let them by, Baima said she just knew something terrible had happened at the restaurant.
The next few moments unfolded in slow motion for her. Baima recalls arriving at the scene and seeing a huge crowd gathering and still remembers the terrible smell from the fire. Because the fire was slow-moving, they were able to salvage a few items and get everyone out.
At first, Baima thought the restaurant would be able to re-open within a matter of weeks. However, that proved not to be the case. The entire building was condemned. Building codes had changed and new codes had to be met in order for Skillets to re-open. It quickly became clear that re-opening would be a long, drawn-out process.
The lengthy delay was a blow for Baima and her staff. However, they were comforted by an outpouring of support from the community. As a matter of fact, according to Baima, she was “overwhelmed” by the kindness people from far and near showed her. She describes it as being almost like someone died. People sent flowers, cards, and letters, some coming from as far away as Canada and Hawaii. There were calls coming in almost non-stop. General contractors, plumbers, and electricians, who loved to eat at Skillets, came forward to offer assistance. Baima said she didn’t realize Skillets was more than “just a restaurant” until the fire, and she is happy about how many good-natured, caring people there are in the world.
Part-time resident Steve Jones said his time on Hilton Head isn’t complete if he doesn’t get to enjoy a meal at Skillets. His wife, Amanda, agreed, saying they call to see if Skillets has re-opened every time they come down from New Jersey.
T.D. Peeples Construction Company, Inc., the company who built the original structure, handled the re-building of Skillets, making it even bigger, better, and stronger than it was the first time around. The new Skillets not only occupies its old space, it has also taken over the old location of the Alligator Grille which has relocated to Park Plaza. It has expanded from about 1,800 square feet to nearly 4,500 square feet. Baima also decided to have a lot of fun with decorating the new facility. The new restaurant features an atrium with a bar area, many booths running along the perimeter of the building, large round tables, a private dining room (which can accommodate functions such as business meetings and weddings) and an outdoor seating area.
Skillets, which officially re-opened July 19, is serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., seven days a week. A stocked salad bar is available for lunch and dinner, and an exciting dinner menu features something for everyone. Baima described the dinner menu as “American cuisine with southern influences,” including fried green tomatoes, rainbow trout, crab cakes, fresh seafood platters, liver and onions, lamb shanks, chicken breasts, seafood gumbo, eggs and crepes. She proudly stated that if a couple arrives for dinner, and the husband wants a huge steak and the wife only wants light fare, then Skillets can easily accommodate them.
Baima said one of the best aspects of re-opening is the fact that many of her employees will be returning. She credits her staff with hanging in there and remaining positive throughout the stressful experience and is proud of all of them, including her parents, who work hard and give a real team effort. Skillets is located at J-1 Coligny Plaza. (843) 785-3131.