Three lobbyists walk into a restaurant – and start a new firm, Unconventional Strategies

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

The 101 Restaurant and The Edison, both owned by Adam Corey, quickly became well-known staples of Adams Street culture. On any given night during Session, you’ll be sure to run into a cluster of high-profile politicos — or at least their staff.

“Great conversation happens over food,” says Adam Corey, who owns the well-known 101 Restaurant and The Edison, both near the hub of Tallahassee’s government district.

Now Corey and his partner Nick Matthews have yet another venture, which hopes to make an even bigger splash downtown: Unconventional Strategies, a new lobbying shop where the two have hung out a shingle.

“I guess I’m a glutton for punishment, or at least work,” joked Corey, who is now helping to grow two fledgling enterprises at once. “I was just looking for that opportunity to blaze my own trail and create my own team,” said Corey.

“There aren’t that many restaurants in Tallahassee, and that affords me the opportunity to meet all kinds of people who come into town for business or politics,” said Corey, who says he’s looking forward to working on projects outside of Florida as well with the firm.

The story of Unconventional Strategies’ beginning, however, were quintessentially small-world Florida.

The two were neighbors in a small townhouse community consisting of mostly Florida State alums living in Ft. Lauderdale; they connected about six years ago through a mutual acquaintance, Palm Beach County state attorney Dave Aronberg, while Matthews was working on his 2010 campaign for attorney general.

The two became friendly, and began to regularly catch up on politics and Adams Street business while in South Florida.

“What I love about Nick is he is such a go-getter. He has a work ethic unmatched by people his age,” adding that when he would talk about issues with Matthews, “he was either well-versed or if he wasn’t, he was the next day. I admired his keen interest and observation and willingness to learn.”

“We had political conversations for years, and maintained a relationship and casually… over the summer the conversation got more serious, the timing was right. We both had a really good understanding of what our strengths and weaknesses were, and what our roles would be,” said Matthews.

“Once we agreed on those things, things moved pretty fast. We established Unconventional Strategies, we signed some agreements on how we would operate, and the rest is history. I thought to myself there’s nobody better, honestly, that I would rather work for.”

Corey, who graduated from Florida State University in 2001, worked for Seminole Boosters working on major gifts fundraising. From there, he worked for International Oil Trading Company, under the tutelage of billionaire defense contractor Harry Sargent. And when Corey left IOTC, he took the company along as a client at Gunster Yoakley & Stewart where he worked as a lobbyist for several years.

“I had a great time with Gunster, and got to work with a lot of brilliant, outstanding attorneys,” said Corey. “But eventually – I had a bunch of extracurricular activities outside of the firm that were fun and interesting. What I do and the way I do it, I felt like I was better off on my own.”

In his own words, Matthews had “probably about as traditional and institutional a background in politics as you can get.”

Before venturing into campaign work, Matthews earned a master’s degree in political science, and eventually became an aide for state Sen. Eleanor Sobel. From there he joined the Intergovernmental Affairs Office of Broward County as a lobbyist.

“At some point, I got the urge to put that to practice myself and see how fast I could move and write my own rules,” said Matthews.

“There’s not always a way to advance your career where you are, so you have to look up a little bit and create your own opportunities,” he added. “I’ve always believed that there was an opportunity to do things the right way, to be an honest broker and to build strong relationships with people, because I’ve seen people do it.”

It was also through Tallahassee’s small but mighty social scene that Matthews and Corey met the man Corey would come to call their “secret weapon,” Cody Schwarz. Corey and Schwarz met when the latter would visit 101 as a patron.

Schwarz had been working as a lobbyist at Colodny Fass alongside veteran lobbysit Fred Karlinsky, who also crossed the street to join rival firm Greenberg Traurig in 2014. Before joining Colodny Fass, Schwarz worked at the Department of Management Services.

“We had had conversations about there he was at Gunster, and where he wanted to be and where I was at the old firm, and that relationship developed along those lines over time,” said Schwarz of his time with Corey. “He was a friend first, but somebody that I looked up to as well.”

“So when that opportunity came about, we’d been talking it over for the last couple of months, and I just felt the timing was right,” said Schwarz, adding he also thinks highly of Matthews.

“It helps when the timing is right, and when you’ve got a partner you’ve known for a long time you can trust and you know precisely what the other’s priorities and strengths are,” said Matthews. “When those things come together, it’s an opportunity you don’t pass up.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.