Years before she ever imagined she might own the place, Meghan Leckey knew about Shooters Waterfront. She grew up in Chicago, but Fort Lauderdale was her family’s regular winter holiday of choice. Her grandparents lived up the road in Boynton Beach and as far back as she can remember, her parents always had a vacation place in Fort Lauderdale.
She remembers being out on the boat and seeing this spot along the Intracoastal where there seemed to be a lot of fun happening – though not exactly the sort of fun a kid would be invited to.
“We’d look at it and it would be these people in bikinis and bathing suits just going crazy,” she says of what at that time was still known as a spring break institution. “I’d look at it as a kid and just think, ‘I want to go there.’”
But by the time Leckey got to an appropriate age to enjoy the place’s alcohol-splashed charms, times had changed. Both for Fort Lauderdale, which was now undergoing its transformation from boozy spring break capital to more upmarket destination, and for the bar and restaurant that seemed to have lost its luster. “It was no longer a place that I thought, ‘I want to go there,’” she says. “It had lost its fun.”
If you’ve been to Shooters Waterfront recently, you’ve likely found that lost fun is no longer the issue there. Since reopening the place in 2014, after a 2013 purchase and months-long remodel, Leckey and her team have worked to bring Shooters Waterfront back to what it was – in a way. Today’s Shooters Waterfront is a casual-but-upscale restaurant with massive event spaces, both at the restaurant itself and next door’s Grateful Palate Catering and Events private event space. The food is modern Floridian and while there’s a fun bar-and-restaurant vibe, this is also a place the whole family can go to.
Then there’s that waterfront, which hasn’t changed. “The view itself, you can’t put a price tag on it. When you walk out to the dock and you look out the windows, you think, ‘Oh my gosh, this has so much potential.’ It just needs somebody to wrap their arms around it.”
Since 2013, that’s just what Leckey’s been doing. When she took it over, she saw the potential but also knew what work needed to be done. “It was very sad because you knew it had so much potential left in it,” she says. “It just felt like everybody had given up on it.
“To us, there was no question that the name Shooters Waterfront wasn’t going to be retained. It just needed somebody to come in and well and truly gut the place. The idea was to do a rebirth to Shooters Waterfront.”
At the same time, she wanted to update some concepts. “We wanted to create a landscape that wasn’t going to exclude anyone,” she says. “That was the idea behind the layout.”
Her daughter was two when they took over Shooters Waterfront; she became pregnant with her son not long after.
”They were a huge part of wanting to create that space,” she says. “I wanted a place you could bring your children to.”
Today, the restaurant is recognized as 39th in the top 100 independent restaurants in the country. Shooters Waterfront and the Grateful Palate Catering and Events employ more than 250 people; it’s a big job, and getting it right is a challenge she loves. “We’re always looking for new ways to improve; it’s a very thoughtful process,” she says.
She’s had good feedback from chefs and other employees. “In the corporate world, you have to go through a hundred levels to change something that isn’t working,” she says. “With us, it can be almost instantaneous. It’s refreshing when they come in here; they like the flexibility. Their voice matters – especially for chefs, who are so creative.”
It wasn’t the restaurant business that had originally brought Leckey to Fort Lauderdale full time. Her husband, Justin, works in asset management today but at the time was in the Coast Guard; when he got the opportunity to transfer from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale, the family jumped at it. Not long after, Leckey’s parents also made the full-time move, as did her sister.
Her kids, Vivienne and Preston, are now 7seven and four. The restaurateur life can be unforgiving, but she works hard at maintaining balance.
“It’s challenging,” she says. “I have an incredible team. They enable me to have as good a life as I can, a work-life balance.”
There are also perks to being a restaurant family. As a treat, Leckey sometimes brings home the kids’ favorite foods. They always excitedly report to their parents any teacher who says they’ve been to the restaurant. “They love coming here. They love Easter, all the holidays. They helped design the kids’ menu.”
The work’s not easy, and the place isn’t the same one that Leckey passed years ago on the boat (and definitely didn’t come to for Easter or any other time). But it’s work Leckey loves.
“It is really difficult,” she says. “But I’m trying every day. I’m just very grateful.”