Sliders’ New Owners Put Their Sights on the Future

There’s an undeniable twinkle in Chris Wooten’s eye when he reminisces on a lifetime spent in Neptune Beach. “This 200 First Street block was my life,” he says, referring to the area where Sliders Oyster Bar currently sits. “I just love my neighborhood.”

From days spent as a boy with his father at Willoughby’s Auto Center (the business that originally sat where the restaurant does today) to afternoon meetings with the local surf team down the street, you can’t talk about any landmark in the neighborhood without hitting on a fond memory. Wooten scrubbed dishes at the oyster bar as a teen, then eventually went on to deliver their seafood after scoring a job at his father-in-law’s warehouse. Even his first date with his wife happened at, you guessed it-- Sliders.

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With such deep ties to the restaurant, it should’ve been no surprise when the Pickett’s, ready for retirement, handpicked Wooten and his wife, Deanna, to take over the business. “We batted the decision around for one or two years,” he said. “Everything’s about timing.” So they decided to jump in, but not without severe challenges.

Within the first few months, the restaurant experienced a kitchen fire that shut down business temporarily. And after that? The first Thanksgiving washout in nearly 20 years. “Everybody was raving about how great business would be-- in short, it was crushing,” he says.

In addition to rain and fire, the Wooten’s were also finding that when it came to the customers, taking over a decades-old venture came with its own particular set of hurdles. “I was shocked at some of the response I got from the locals,” he says, speaking about the backlash they received when things began to change. “It really made us look at how we were going to establish our identity.”

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Trying to do just that, they set out with a new goal in mind: establishing a balance between new and old. The first big change? The installation of fryers and the addition of classic baskets to the menu. “We really wanted it to be a place where families can come for the traditional fried platter, but still keep that classic Sliders feel.” And for the old fans? The reinvention and fine tuning of Sliders classics they love and recognize.

And now, nearly a year after their takeover, the Wooten’s are initiating another big change they’re sure everyone can get on board with-- the construction of a 20-foot oyster bar to bring back that classic Floridian feel and “focus on putting the emphasis on the words ‘oyster bar’.”

“We’re really excited with where we’re at right now,” Wooten says with a smile. “We’ve been in this game a long time-- our focus is on fun. Fun for everyone, customers and employees alike.”

And as far as the critics go? Wooten’s message: “we’re just doing the best we can.”

For a taste of unbelievably fresh Floridian classics caught right off the coast, make sure you stop by Sliders Oyster Bar Sunday-Thursday 11am-9pm or Friday-Saturday 11am-10pm.
 
For reservations, contact them at (904) 246-0881 or click here!

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