John and Jeané Gaskins

A Winter Haven barbecue and seafood restaurant is expanding to Lakeland. Gaskins Barbecue and Lobster plans to open a new location at Lakeside Village in the space formerly occupied by Beef O’Brady’s.

Owners Jeané and John Gaskins hope to open the new location by early October. The couple is excited their new location will offer more indoor seating and outdoor seating.

“We love it. It’s a great spot. It’s bigger than the location that we have here in Winter Haven,” said Jeané Gaskins. “We have a lot of customers who come from Lakeland. The thought is they’ll be there more. That’s the goal.”

Gaskins Barbecue and Lobster in Winter Haven opened at 600 Cypress Gardens Blvd.  in December 2019. The restaurant is family-owned and operated.

Some of the restaurant’s popular dishes are lobster rolls, brisket, pulled pork and ribs, accompanied by Southern sides such as coleslaw, barbecue beans and mac and cheese.

“That’s the difference between us and a lot of other places is that we have a mixed concept,” Jeané said. “If you have somebody  who doesn’t like seafood but likes barbecue, there you go. And if you have someone vice versa who likes barbecue and not seafood, then you have a great spot for both of you to go. “

While the Winter Haven location also offers other seafood like fried shrimp and clam strips, Jeané said the Lakeland location will focus solely on barbecue and lobster. She acknowledges the price point may be a little higher than other barbecue eateries.

“Our price point is not for everyone because it is real lobster, and it is being imported from Maine and so it is not cheap and we know that,” Jeané said.

The inspiration for the restaurant came from John’s time serving in the Navy in the Portsmouth, N.H., area. While living there years later in 2016, the couple came across an opportunity to open a seasonal restaurant in York Beach, Maine. They wanted to share Southern barbecue with the New Englanders and that’s how Gaskins Barbecue and Lobster was born.

Jeané grew up in Haines City and John is from Cocoa, in Brevard County. Both from Florida, they wanted to bring the Maine lobsters back home, leading them to open Gaskins Barbecue and Lobster in Winter Haven.

They recently sold the Maine location.

“Florida has opened up everything and Maine did not so our sales were down drastically last year due to COVID and it’s very difficult to do business there,” Jeané explained.  

Jeané said it’s hasn’t been easy operating a restaurant in Florida, either.

“It’s been a roller coaster with a lot of ups and down,” Jeané said. “It’s just been kind’ve crazy so far.”

Like many other restaurants, she said finding adequate employees has been an issue.

The couple has dreams of opening more locations, possibly on Lakeland’s northside or in Davenport or Champion’s Gate. They’re looking for the right fit and haven’t ruled out franchising in the future.

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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