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On Tuesday night, the Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida inducted Teri Hansen, president of Priority Marketing and Sandy Stilwell, CEO and owner of Stilwell Enterprises & Restaurant Group into the 2017 Business Hall of Fame, Lee County. This is the first time two women have simultaneously been inducted.

Stilwell describes the award as a complete shock.

I thought they were asking me to chair the event, not be a participant," Stilwell said. "It was a lovely evening and they did a personalized video. My father was part of it, as was Meg Geltner, executive director for Pace Center for Girls and formerly with the Salvation Army. Also my friends Dave and Cheryl Copham had a role in it."

Stilwell said she and Hansen are good friends, so it was a very special moment for her.

Stilwell is the owner of Keylime Bistro, Sunshine Seafood Café and Wine Bar, RC Otter’s Island Eats, Latte Da Coffee Shop, Captiva Island Inn, Celebration Center of Captiva, Paradise Shopping Center, and Cantina Captiva, and Summerlin Jake’s Seafood & Steaks in Fort Myers. Collectively, she employs 150 people.

From an early age, Stilwell always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. But, she said she would have never of dreamt of working in the restaurant business.

"My first job was working as a dishwasher at my uncle's restaurant when I was 10. I knew I didn't want to be in the restaurant business, that was for sure but I knew I wanted to be self-employed so it's kind of funny that I caught the bug. I really do love the restaurant business," Stilwell said.   She said one of the most rewarding aspects of being a business owner are the people she has worked with throughout the years.

"I've watched a lot staff grow up. We've had many marriages and now, they're having kids and or grandchildren. I've watched teenagers that I've employed go on to large careers. It really makes me so thankful to have been given the opportunity. Our guests have been coming back for years. We've done weddings, funerals, birthday parties, anniversaries, reunions, baptism parties, showers, bachelor parties and bachelorette parties and rehearsal dinners! It's truly and honor that they have entrusted us with their big day," Stilwell said.

Along with the good, Stilwell has faced many challenges along the way. She said the most defining moment of her career was Hurricane Charley.

"I didn't evacuate, I was right there. Everything was beautiful then within a couple hours, everything was broken that I owned. It was amazing time to get through and find out who my most valuable staff were. Some of my staff were actually in the house with me as we rode out the storm. There weren't a whole lot of customers back then, but I had a lot of responsibility for a lot employees and entertainers that needed jobs so we opened up sooner than we needed to. If I wouldn't have opened those restaurants back up for business soon, my staff wouldn't have had jobs," Stilwell said. "It was a financial downturn. It took me about three to four years to work my way out of that, but I did."

Although Stilwell doesn't plan on adding anymore restaurants to the mix anytime soon, she recently bought a house on Captiva that will be an addition to the Captiva Island Inn.

Future endeavors for Stilwell includes co-chairing an event for Hope Healthcare in January. The project came about after she experienced a significant personal loss.

"We have a desperate need for more beds in our area. We hope to build a new facility for Hope Healthcare. I was asked along with Senator Benacquisto and Sonya Sawyer to do this together and take on this project. We're going to do a great event," Stilwell said.

 
 

 

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