Whether you live in Sarasota or are visiting on a tropical getaway,  chances are you like to kick back and relax at a local eatery like Daiquiri Deck. Founded in the early 1990s, Daiquiri Deck restaurants have become favorite local institutions beloved for their wall of playful daiquiris, welcoming atmosphere and classic beach grub. Renowned chef Jeremy Thayer joined the Daiquiri Deck team as a consultant in August of 2022 and became the company’s Corporate Chef and Director of Culinary this past January, where he’s launching his spirited take on nostalgic and comforting dishes that echo the brand’s laid-back vibe. 

Thayer graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, worked as a senior sous chef for Wegmans Market Café and was a chef instructor and chef de cuisine at the Statler Hotel at Cornell University. Through his connections at Wegmans, he learned about an effort to serve food at Ground Zero during 9/11. For two weeks, Thayer and other chefs cooked up meals and transported them to first responders at Ground Zero, and he says that it was the most humbling life experience he’s ever had. Upon moving to Florida, he left his mark at Sarasota establishments like Grove, IMG Academy, Mattison's Restaurants and the Sarasota Art Museum’s Bistro. “I’m not one of those chefs that likes to boast about my accomplishments. I feel like I’ve been lucky, have worked hard and been fortunate with the jobs and places I’ve worked for, and they've all been great," he says.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

After meeting with Ed Rensi, a restaurant consultant and regular at Bistro, Thayer learned of a potential opportunity to collaborate with Daiquiri Deck’s key players who were looking to grow and open more locations. He interviewed with Daiquiri Deck’s President, Matt Grover, and Main Owner, Troy Syprett. “I took their menu, and we condensed it down and gave them a bunch of cool new ideas. I did two tastings with them to let them see what they could have working with the same ingredients that they currently have in their kitchens, and they were just kind of blown away by that,” he adds. About a week later, Grover and Syprett offered Thayer the company’s corporate chef job, which he accepted. 

While refreshing the restaurant’s menu, Thayer visited Daiquiri Deck’s various locations as well as other local restaurants. “I’m not a Floridian, but I did spend a lot of time here growing up. When I moved here from upstate New York in 2005, I fell in love with everything that South Florida has, and I love the food and having everything at your fingertips all year round. I looked at the menu and wanted to fit into their culture of good vibes, good food, good people and good times, and I went back to my roots of growing up in upstate New York and loving foods that were more regional and central to the area where they originated,” he says. “I did a little bit of investigating with other restaurants to see what other people were doing, and I wanted Daiquiri Deck to be different and stand out.” One challenge Thayer experienced was crafting dishes that were elevated yet approachable. He leaned into his love for Cajun Creole flavors and French-influenced New Orleans cuisine in creating the Good Ole Po Boys, which he hopes will transport patrons back to Mardi Gras of days gone by or conjure up other nostalgic memories of the sandwich. He also experimented with seafood in the lobster pasta, with marsala, shiitake mushrooms, cream sauce, arugula and shaved parmesan tossed in a pappardelle pasta. “When I made that and gave it to Troy in our second tasting, he immediately said ‘This needs to be a signature dish. This screams Daiquiri Deck.’ We get a lot of tourists, so for me, it was trying to put something on the menu that was a little upscale, but not so intimidating where people felt like ‘I don’t feel comfortable with that or this isn’t the place that could have this kind of good food,’” he says. Thayer also incorporated his whimsical style into the brunch menu, crafting dishes like coconut shrimp and waffles that blend the bounties of the sea with breakfast icons. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

For Thayer, cooking represents more than the assemblage of ingredients. “I’m a dad of three kids, and everything used to revolve around our dinner table. I feel that food is something like breaking bread, where you can bring people together,” he adds. “This happens a lot during Thanksgiving and the Feast of the Seven Fishes, but I think we can have that every day with good food that brings people together, releases endorphins that make them happy and have good moments with friends, family and strangers out in the restaurant.”