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Rumrunners Chef Todd Johnson to Open a New Restaurant

A homecoming of sorts is in the works for the coming year.

BY January 27, 2016

If you’ve seen the feature story in our February issue on the chefs of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, you might have noticed I broke some pretty big news—Todd Johnson, an accolade-magnet for his enormously popular Rumrunners in Cape Coral, is planning to open a “smaller” restaurant in his longtime city of residence, Naples (or, at the least, much closer to it). And although he has seen his friend Harold Balink “super-happy” cooking for 32 people each night after downsizing with his new Harold’s on Tamiami, when you’re dealing with a chef who has made his mark with 300-seat whales, you can see why his goal size of a 150-person-capacity seems like dolphin’s play.

“I haven’t nailed the location yet. It won’t be in Cape Coral. Either South Fort Myers or Naples. The purpose of that is to be closer to my house. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Johnson says. “I’ve worked in Lee County for almost my whole career. I went from sous chef to chef-partner, and that was in Lee County. I’ve been a restaurant chef-owner since 1997 here. But I do want to open something close to my house.”

That restaurant he’s talking about is the still-relevant Bistro 41, but he did climb the first rungs of the kitchen ladder in Naples, a place he’s called home since his teenage years, at places like Bistro 821 and the now-shuttered Chef’s Garden.

He’s adamant he will still be involved in Rumrunners no matter what happens, and he’s tight with his business partners, saying the only reason he didn’t join them in opening Cork Soakers (one of my picks for the year’s best new restaurants) was because he had the goal of opening his own place in Naples.

He has a few concrete ideas, “It’s going to be chef-driven, with an open kitchen.” But, like he told me for our February feature, he hates to be a slave to a concept, so we’ll just have to wait and see what’s cooking. 


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