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Naples Originals Celebrates 10 Years

We sat down with Vin DePasquale to discuss Naples dining.



The Dock at Crayton Cove

 

If you are a relative newcomer, the early restaurant landscape painted by locals is almost unfathomable—where Fifth Avenue South was in disrepair and Pelican Bay was viewed as a risky investment. Hurricane Irma may have thrown restaurateurs for a loop, but Naples as a whole is now home to dozens of eateries, many of which are independently owned and truly reflect the area’s character. But that wasn’t always a sure thing.

Ten years ago a group of restaurateurs banded together to form Naples Originals. What started essentially as a marketing cooperative pushing for consumers to get to know and love the “Originals” (so national chains wouldn’t gobble them up) has morphed into something bigger. People record the group’s quarterly gift card drive from member restaurants on their calendars. And Foodie Camp, which just had its third run Oct. 16-25, has become one of the year’s biggest epicurean events, featuring dozens of chef-led cooking classes—plus, the proceeds fund culinary scholarships. 

To honor the group’s 10th anniversary and how far our food scene has come, we sat down with Vin DePasquale, one of the first Originals. He has helped shape Naples since the ’70s, developing Crayton Cove and Tin City, where he still owns two restaurants, Riverwalk and The Dock at Crayton Cove (the latter, an iconic eatery, was hard-hit by Irma but reopened three weeks after the storm).

What first drew you to Naples?

I came through Naples hitchhiking to Fort Lauderdale when I was at the University of Tampa and got stuck on a bridge. I’m standing there looking down at the bay and this community of fishing boats—in fact, the original buildings of Tin City were there on my right but abandoned—and I thought, “What an interesting place.” After several years of college, the Army and working for the Marriott Corporation, in 1971, I just packed my car in San Francisco and drove here.

Back then, could you have guessed how much it would have grown?

I knew it was a beautiful community, and I did see lots of opportunity. But I had no idea it would end up like this. Even up until the ’90s, there were a lot of empty spaces on Fifth Avenue South. I hate to use this word, but they were considering blighting it at one point that’s how bad it was. They called in a city planner and got some direction from him and relaxed some of the codes like parking. That pushed city growth, and that’s when it all started to roll. The pace has been hot and fast, with a slowdown for the recession, then it picked up speed again.

What is your take on the restaurant scene now?

Given the population and size of Naples, to have as many extraordinary choices of restaurants—especially in the downtown area—it’s, well, extraordinary. The whole community is filled with successful and very good restaurants. Ten years ago when the Originals started, there was a push to promote local restaurants rather than the chains that were coming in. Now most of what we have downtown are small businesses. They’re not chains, not by any means. It made us realize people in this community want to support local businesses.

 

 

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