Story by LISA ANDERSON • Photos by JOSHUA JACOBS
Algenard Simmons’ smile beams at me as he pokes his head through the reception window of my office. His charisma immediately makes me feel comfortable, like sitting at home with a lifelong friend. This is precisely what the atmosphere is like at his Ocala downtown bar, The Courtyard on Broadway.
He’s dreamed of a culinary life since childhood. He was a part of the restaurant industry for most of his youth, and when Algenard decided he wanted to have his own place, he played it smart by getting a degree in business. However, his dream shifted from restaurant to bar after a trial by fire when his manager asked Algenard if he wanted to bartend. His response: “I can make a margarita and a cape cod.”
His manager was convinced — he would be bartending. He repeated himself, but his limited knowledge of the position did not worry his manager. “He just threw me back there, and I fell in love with it,” he explains with that bright smile.
His passion for the bar industry grew, and in late 2012, he began to look for things not available in the Ocala area. What he found, or rather didn’t find, was a bar with a “nice, chill” atmosphere. “My friend and I were at [a bar] solving life’s problems over alcohol and a band started playing. It was really loud, and we couldn’t talk to each other.”
A half hour passed and the two friends couldn’t come up with a relaxing location that wasn’t a restaurant. “That’s when I said, ‘You know what! Screw it. I’m going to open up a place,’” Algenard slaps his hands together for emphasis.
The search for equipment began the next day and before he even found a location for his new business, he had everything his kitchen and bar would require stored in his brother’s garage. It was 2013 before he found the “perfect” site, but the process was halted due to a few regulation requirements. It was a series of unfortunate events that led to finding the perfect spot now known as The Courtyard on Broadway.
Learning How to Shift with the Crowd
The Courtyard originally opened in October 2013 as a jazz bar, but the theme wasn’t meant to be. Ocala had its own idea of a chill bar. “It was around Thanksgiving. I knew I wanted entertainment, but I didn’t want TV’s,” Algenard explains.
Inspired by Peg Solitare at Cracker Barrel, he left different games on the tables for a one-night event. It wasn’t very busy, but he noticed something different. “I looked at the numbers at the end of the night and they were higher than normal. I realized people were staying a lot longer playing games.”
He decided to repeat the process the next week, and people came back to play games with friends at the bar. “That’s how The Courtyard went from a jazz bar to being known for games,” he explains.
Going with the Flow
Happy accidents seem to be the theme for shaping The Courtyard’s atmosphere, but it takes a savvy businessman to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. When a friend asked Algenard about using the bar to host their baby shower, he agreed. “Luckily they decorated. They came in for a few days to make [the decorations]. It looked beautiful.”
The friends took photos of their work and posted them online, and the requests to book the space as a venue started coming in. Algenard seized the opportunity to expand and take his business in yet another, unplanned direction. “I just kind of go with the flow,” he laughs.
He might see it as going with the flow, but it’s easy to recognize his smart business sense. In March of 2019, he seized another opportunity when both the neighboring units became available. He spoke with his landlord and rented them. “When that happened, I was able to see the full expansion of what I wanted,” he explains.
Algenard turned the parking lot into one big courtyard filled with games and seating areas. He also went from offering only tappas to a full menu, and he is now working on offering a regularly scheduled brunch. The timing for all of this couldn’t have been better, because he was able to open the outside area during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, while keeping the indoor area closed. “Luckily, there weren’t as many regulations for outdoor areas. With that and the timing of the weather, nobody really wanted to be indoors anyway.”
Community Support Makes the Difference
Ocala’s love for The Courtyard was obvious during the pandemic. “The support from the local [community] was incredible,” Algenard recalls. “The people that still had their jobs and security made it a point to go out and help. They ordered more to-go food and supported as much as they could. That’s one of the beauties of having a small community. People really stepped-up and supported local during that time. It was a huge stress relief.”
The Daily Grind
Algenard’s day-to-day varies, and once again, he goes with the flow of life. “It depends on when you ask me,” a chuckle escapes him, as he tries to clarify his daily routine.
About three months ago, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., his day was filled with admin work, booking parties, taking orders, and all the BTS work that goes into a typical business. His favorite part of the day: opening the doors for bar service. “That’s the real joy. The admin stuff is more necessary work, where the [bar service] is more my comfort zone.”
Owning a business can be both physically and mentally tasking, and Algenard believes in taking a break to recharge. For the last few months, he’s done some admin tasks but spent most of his days relaxing and traveling. Trusting his staff to handle the work in his absence is a big part of being able to take these vacations. “They really step-up and are amazing,” he praises his employees. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
Exciting New Changes
The Courtyard is in for a complete make-over. Algenard is talking with the contractor and trying to plan a complete renovation during a time when he’ll be able to shut the doors for a few weeks. He plans to add bathrooms and other amenities to help accommodate the bar’s increasing popularity.
He’s always believed that Ocala deserves some fun and different things to do. While he’s shown his business savvy over and over, he’s also dedicated to his mission and hasn’t let the idea of extra earnings distract him from it. “I wanted to let [the bar] grow in a way that let people feel connected to it,” he clarifies.
Whenever he finds something he wants to bring into the bar, he asks himself if it is doable in a smaller community, does it fit with the vibe and brand of the bar, and will it be a new experience for Ocala.
Though his goals have shifted over the years, he truly believes he is living the dream. Algenard hopes his business inspires other people to create something new for this area, and we all look forward to seeing what is in store for him and The Courtyard on Broadway.