The owners of the Tipsy Turtle restaurants have worked hard over the past decade to create a family-friendly environment based around an easily recognized icon.
The keys to success? “Good food, nice atmosphere, loyal customers, and a good environment,” said Ken Carey, co-owner of the restaurants in Swoyersville and Jenkins Township.
Carey, 38, of Exeter, said he and co-owner Jack Walker use their knowledge of food service, gleaned from many years working in other restaurants, to create a place that would draw customers from all walks of life. That includes creating a customizable menu that offers options not found in chain restaurants.
“From day one, we’ve always focused on really great food,” Carey said.
The best classification Carey has come up with for the Tipsy Turtle is to call it a “casual, family sports bar.” His goal is to provide a place where everyone is comfortable enjoying affordable drinks and food.
Carey and Walker created a recognizable brand for the Tipsy Turtle, complete with a cartoon turtle icon wearing a fisherman’s hat and holding a beer and sandwich. Carey said he hoped people would remember the icon and associate it with the restaurant.
“I thought people could relate to a logo,” he said.
There are about 30 variations of the turtle, which is featured on advertisements, shirts and menus.
In keeping with the theme, they dubbed their boneless chicken bites “turtle bites.” The name has served them well.
“I’ve heard stories of people going to other places and ordering turtle bites,” Carey said.
The menu was devised with a range of tastes in mind, and options for customization. Tipsy Turtle offers 26 different wing sauces – like Cajun or hot honey garlic – which can flavor wings, turtle bites, sandwiches or burgers, Carey said.
He added he’s not afraid to experiment or add new elements to the menu, such as a possible wasabi wing sauce.
Each night features different food and drink specials. On Wednesdays at Owen Street, it’s “Down on the Bayou,” with Rhode Island steamed clams. Mondays are build-your-own burger or pizza night, and on the weekend, it’s “Fiesta Sunday” with quesadillas and fajitas.
“It’s creative food, it’s unique. The menu’s eight to ten pages and you can’t get bored,” Carey said.
The original Tipsy Turtle on Market Street – which opened 10 years ago – was recently renovated to give it an updated, vibrant look in line with the Owen Street pub in Swoyersville.
Carey and Walker realized they needed to expand when they saw how crowded the Market Street pub was getting on weekend nights, Carey said. The Owen Street pub will be open three years on March 31 – Carey’s 39th birthday. It features a dining room that can seat about 86, in addition to the bar area, which seats 50.
At the Owen Street pub, the vibrant orange-red walls and wood paneling are accented with beer-shaped mirrors, record covers and chalkboards listing the Tipsy Turtle’s weekly specials.
Televisions are located above the bar and on the dining room walls.
Carey said the business is employee friendly because he and Walker know what it’s like to be restaurant employees. The two tended bar, bussed tables and cooked in past jobs. Many of his workers have been with the restaurant for years, Carey added.
Customer service is also key, he said. Taking the time to talk to customers allows him to get to know the people he serves and what attracts them to the place. The restaurant offers special deals and runs a birthday club to thank and reward the regulars who come in faithfully for a bite to eat or a few drinks.
“There’s a lot of stuff we’ve done to create new business and reward the ones who have been with us for the past few years,” he said.
Carey’s commitment to his community is not confined to his restaurants. He also runs the Tipsy Turtle Make Life Count Charity, which he started after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
The charity raises funds for cancer patients, primarily through an annual golf tournament and raffles. They’ve raised over $95,000 for the Medical Oncology Associates Prescription Assistance Fund, established by Dr. David Greenwald.
The fund helps patients treated at the Medical Oncology Associates’ Kingston offices afford medical costs, such as paying for prescriptions.
“We’re getting cancer patients locally the help they need to get through,” said Carey, who is now cancer-free.
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