My grandparents, Marjorie and Pete Wright, started this company on April 20, 1963 in a tiny storefront with second-hand equipment. They had lots of ambition and sought to be the best by offering the best. The original Wright's Gourmet House began as a gourmet shop: imported & domestic delicacies, fresh coffees & teas, exotic spices, unusual cheeses, and fresh-roasted meats. They planned to be Tampa's purveyors of truffles and caviar as well as gourmet salads and homemade desserts.
But how they ended up opening the shop is a story in itself. When Marjorie Coggins and Pete Wright met in 1962, neither had any idea that their lives would change even more in the coming year. Widow and widower, they met late in life after their first spouses had died. All of their children were grown, out of the house, and starting their own families when Pete and Marjorie married later that year..
Grandmother had worked her way up the ladder and was Director of Admissions at Tampa General Hospital. She had a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about her work, including a feature story about her from the New York Times.
Then one day her whole life changed. A new hospital administrator felt that she, along with five other department heads, was wrong for his team and he fired all of them. She was heart-broken. She loved her job -- it was what she was going to do for the rest of her life.
Grandmother soon joined a local company as its public relations person, but she wasn't happy. She wanted to control her own destiny. One day as she drove to work she abruptly turned the car around and returned home to announce to Pete that Tampa needed a gourmet shop and they were going to open it.
Pete was skeptical - -his insurance career had suddenly ended four days after marrying Grandmother and he was looking for work. "We don't have any money," he protested but Grandmother was unmoved. My grandmother believed that the gourmet food trade could be both challenging and rewarding. It was an opportunity to get ahead. And she soon convinced Pete that they would succeed, but it was not as they expected. The first customers liked the novelty of the Wrights' concept, but sales were slow.
They worked hard to build traffic and believed that sampling their fare was a great way to introduce new flavors to Tampa and create excitement. "Sampling sells," Grandmother said. And Grandmother would sell the broom in her hand if it would make the register ring!
Late on a Saturday afternoon at the shop Grandmother Marjorie finished dinner for Pete and her to eat that evening. She had made Turkey Tetrazini and placed it on the counter top to cool. The casserole's aroma captivated a guest, and the woman asked to buy it. Grandmother Marjorie gladly sold the Tetrazini. She'd do whatever it took—even if it meant selling her dinner. And the next week she found a freezer so that she could offer frozen entrees to all her customers.
While gourmet entrées for take-out have been the rage of the last decade, Marjorie and Pete Wright offered gourmet entrees To Go in 1963. They didn't have any great insight into the future, but they did believe that if their customers asked for an item, Wright's would be the first and the best at offering it.
Surprisingly my grandparents believed that sandwiches would be merely convenience items--the real sales would come from sliced meats and cheeses. But customers said, "Marjorie, I don't want a pound of ham or a ¼ lb. of cheese--I want a Ham & Cheese." It didn't take long for Grandmother to decide that sandwiches would help make the register ring and true to her desire to be gourmet, she introduced unique and special sandwiches like the Beef Martini and the Golden Gate.
Committed to quality, my grandparents began creating the best sandwiches in town. They had a German baker develop special dough for them, and they had him bake it in a big, round pan. They called it Bucket Bread.
Since 1963 the family has believed that making our customers happy is the purpose of Wright's Gourmet House. Nearly every item you see on the menu today was created because our customers asked for it.
Today Wright's Gourmet House is widely recognized in the community for its special and unique sandwiches. We sell hundreds every day. And we sell them because our customers asked for them. You may have seen that Bucket Bread sandwiches have been imitated by many since Wright's first offered them, but we believe that no one has been able to duplicate our famous sandwiches.
The Wrights' original commitment to always saying "yes" to nearly every guest's request has taken the company to new levels of success. Look through the menu and you will see a variety of truly unique menu items such as the Chicken Mediterranean entrée or the Hawaiian Princess Cake. Wright's prides itself on being the leader in quality and uniqueness.
Although my grandparents had little formal training in management or business theory, they built their business with a simple philosophy. They believed that if Wright's Gourmet House offered a high quality product with personable, knowledgeable service in a clean, attractive location, they would succeed. They were right.
I grew up in the business. I started working here when I was twelve and worked through high school on Saturdays and school breaks and holidays. When I went off to college, I thought I'd never come back.
But as Pete Wright passed his 70th birthday and Grandmother Marjorie approached hers, they decided to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Since they would not accept absentee ownership or a new name on the door, the Wrights rejected outside ownership.
In the summer of 1981 Marjorie and Pete Wright made me an offer I couldn't refuse. It was a deal of the lifetime--for both them and me -- and they sold Wright's Gourmet House to me. I have run the company since that time, and as the majority owner, I take a very active role in the operation of the business.
Wright's has changed considerably since then.
When I bought the restaurant I was 21 years old and I dreamed of Wright's across America--the next McDonald's--we'd be on every street corner.
We've grown remarkably since then but not how I imagined. I am fortunate the business has survived some of my youthful mistakes.
In 1981, Wright's operated only during the day from Monday through Saturday with a staff of eight employees. Wright's was strictly take-out and its sales were just over $500,000 per year.
Today, Wright's operates from early morning to late evening with a staff of nearly 50 employees. Wright's offers in-door seating for 80 and outdoor seating for 24 plus we have a thriving catering delivery service.
In 1984 John Wright, Pete Wright's youngest son, came and learned the business. He subsequently opened a restaurant in North Atlanta called Wright's Gourmet Shoppe. While the two restaurants are similar in concept, we have no ties other than familial. Visitors from Atlanta occasionally ask if we're a franchise of the Atlanta store. They are surprised to learn that Atlanta copied Tampa rather than vice-versa. We are the original.
Our staff has fueled Wright's exciting growth over the last few years. They have carried on my grandparents' legacy by offering only the finest food and pleasing the guest. You can see that commitment in the growing popularity of specialty desserts or the increasing demand for our catering services.
When you look at Wright's Gourmet House, I hope that you recognize that Wright's today is the result of the caring and hard work by many people for over 50 years!
Thanks for joining us.
P.S. The hospital's new head lasted only a few months before the board decided he wasn't right for the job and let him go. My grandmother now says, "getting fired from the hospital was one of the best things that ever happened to me."