Those familiar with Hilton Head Island’s premier dining experiences are no strangers to ELA’s Blu Water Grille, which is situated in Shelter Cove Harbour and has been voted the best location in South Carolina for water view dining. What those people may not know is that the developer of this family-owned and operated business, Earl Nightingale, has amassed decades of experience working with some of the most prominent brands in hospitality and humbly considers himself a “small-time operator.”
Nightingale grew up in the Chicago suburbs, where his grandparents owned a candy store and market, and his parents, Earl and Jeanette, owned a snack shop, E & J’s. It was a true family affair and Nightingale cut his hospitality teeth serving in a variety of roles at his family’s shops, as well as at Villa Bleu, the Kelsey Road House, Knights of Columbus and Sun Electric, where he worked in the company’s cafeteria.
“Growing up, I was a dishwasher, bus boy, cook, whatever was needed. I remember making a lot of pizzas,” Nightingale said with a laugh.
When he wasn’t tossing pies and busing tables, Nightingale assisted his dad with a broad range of tasks. “I often cut grass for my dad, who was an undertaker at a cemetery, or helped him with other jobs, and I also worked as an auto mechanic,” he said.
After high school, Nightingale decided to enroll in the restaurant and hospitality program at the University of Chicago. After earning his associate degree, he continued his studies at the University of Wisconsin, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management. Fresh out of college, Nightingale secured employment with Hyatt and kicked off a whirlwind career with the hospitality giant that spanned nearly 30 years and took him around the country.
“I worked in different positions and in 14 different cities, from San Francisco to New York, but never in L.A.,” he said with a smile.
Nightingale was a general manager with Hyatt for 28 years before leaving to join the Hilton empire. During his three-year stint with Hilton, Nightingale became a popular fixtu e at the Hilton’s location at Palmetto Dunes Resort on Hilton Head. Nightingale then joined Omni hotels for several years and was instrumental in facilitating the hotel’s transition from a Hilton property to the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort.
Following his time with Omni, Nightingale decided to “get off the corporate merry-go-round” and founded H2R2 Solutions, a hospitality-focused consulting firm He also developed ELA’s, which is owned by H2R2.
“I spent years working for big companies and focused on remodeling, repairing and repositioning. H2R2 is small, but experienced and full-service. We help individuals and businesses with best practices, inventory, payroll and financing co-managing — whatever they need to be successful,” Nightingale said.
Nightingale emphatically credits his “family,” which includes his wife, children and restaurant team, with his success and enjoyment of life.
“I like what I’m doing, it doesn’t feel like work, and I love everyone I work with. We are building something for the future and having fun.”