It may be easier to broker a Middle East peace deal than to walk in and immediately score a table in season at one of our area’s favorite beachfront restaurants. U.S. Secret Service learned that during Vice President Mike Pence’s April trip to Sanibel and Captiva islands. Agents showed up to The Mucky Duck wearing fishing and polo shirts and informed the hostess that a VIP wanted to sit for dinner at 5:30. “I’m so sorry, I can’t do 5:30,” General Manager Regina Burnette replied. “I just don’t do favors.” She says she’s heard all the lines: “Everybody tries to pull one on you. We just don’t do that.” The restaurant doesn’t do reservations. People start lining up at 4:30 to add their names on a coveted list for one of The Mucky Duck’s 21 tables. Regina informed them she could definitely do 6 p.m. As agents relayed the message back to the VP, the restaurant staffers figured out their “VIP” wasn’t simply a couple of vacationers trying to pull a fast one. One agent “put his finger to his ear and I saw a gun,” Regina told me. “My hostess said, ‘I told you!’” Now, the agents’ earlier actions made sense.
“Agents were in plain clothes, buying beers to blend in, and they were dumping them,” she remembered. A few minutes later, Pence arrived to an armed U.S. Coast Guard crew standing watch on the Gulf of Mexico and agents surrounding The Mucky Duck property. She obliged all of the Secret Service’s security requests. Pence sat away from a window seat; agents picked out his glassware and watched in the kitchen while his food was being prepared. The former Indiana governor ordered flounder meuniere with fries and a Buckler non-alcoholic beer to wash it down. He spent time taking selfies with people, and a long-time Mucky Duck server got to see a different side to the second-in-command. “I was honored [to serve Pence and his wife]. He showed me pictures of the family’s two cats and their bunny. His wife noticed I was from Kansas,” recalled LuAnn Martin.
“Had I known it was him, I would have given him special treatment,” Regina said with a laugh while retelling her latest run-in with celebrity. She’s seen more than her fair share of professional athletes come through The Mucky Duck, and there must be something about the salty air that draws politicians. Al Gore has visited, and Walter Mondale is a regular. Add Pence to the list. I bet next time Secret Service will call ahead …
Summer rains will bring big changes inside the NBC2 Weather Center. Longtime early morning riser Haley Webb is getting out of the TV news biz. She brought her meteorological skills to Waterman Broadcasting in 2005, but in the spring of this year she made the decision to move to Tennessee to join in her family’s business ventures. Viewers will certainly miss her warm personality and trusted forecast. Haley’s replacement is another one of my long-time colleagues. “Jason Dunning always has a smile on his face and a positive can-do attitude, making him a great co-worker and outstanding on-air talent,” wrote Vice President of News Darrel Lieze-Adams in an email to the entire company. This Georgia Bulldog will miss taking jabs at Jason’s Florida Gators during the 11 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. broadcasts. Like the Southwest Florida sun they’ve spent years tracking, both Haley and Jason have bright futures.
The hotter temperatures and sultrier nights may have us fanning ourselves with the nearest piece of paper we can find or hibernating in the air conditioning more, but summer also means we have our little corner of paradise back to ourselves again. Traffic has calmed down and so have our nerves; Publix and Costco are easier to navigate, which means we can breathe easier. Finally, with the social swirl easing into calmer waters, we can reflect on some of the buzz around town.
For instance, it’s been tabled until August, but there was a lot of commotion in downtown Fort Myers when City Council proposed to increase density and development in downtown and mid-town, which means the sky would (literally) be the limit for builders. However, folks living in and around the River District collectively said, “Not in my backyard.” It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out—downtown Fort Myers could end up looking more like downtown Sarasota, but is that really such a bad thing? At least they have a Whole Foods.
One project that’s definitely getting off the ground is Luminary Hotel & Co., a high-end hotel with 12 stories and 237 guest rooms next to Harborside Event Center and overlooking the Caloosahatchee River. Picture a street-side diner, a rooftop bar and a culinary theater. Something tells me that downtown might be getting more weekend visits from Naples revelers now that they’ll have a waterfront hotel destination. We hear that the Luminary will be complete in early 2019.
When starting new projects, creativity is key. And so when the fundraising pros at LARC, the nonprofit that serves individuals with developmental disabilities, started planning their April 13 fundraiser, they called upon some of the most creative minds in town: theater folk. It all started at a luncheon, where Florida Repertory Theatre board member Sunny Lubner and actress/directors Andi Horowitz, Karen Goldberg and Anne Dodd put their heads together and came up with Hollywood Heist, a mystery-themed event that centered around a gorgeous custom-made necklace created by generous jewelry designer extraordinaire Mark Loren. One lucky guest would win the sparkling piece, but only after discovering clues from a fabulous cast of characters with names like Fluffy Lovelace, Abel Cain, Shirley Will, Ginger Knockers and more. Charlotte Wagner had fun helping to write the script, along with Angela Katz of LARC and anybody else who threw in some fab ideas. Coolest of all, the heist took place in a stunning over-the-top 13,000-square-foot mansion in Gulf Harbor. Says Sunny, “Socially, it was the event of the season! Everyone there just loved trying to solve the mystery—I played Dame Hildegarde and it was a delight. It’s wonderful when creative minds come together for such a good cause.” Angela tells me that LARC was so thrilled with the soiree that it will definitely be happening again next year. We can’t wait to see what Sunny and company come up with for 2018.
Every Ritz-Carlton guest room around the world will now feature the work of Naples jeweler Mara Labell Muller (pictured). The company chose her “elegant with an edge” designs for The Shops at The Ritz-Carlton Catalog. Mara’s high-end eye sees beyond jewelry. When she’s not designing, she’s working luxury real estate in Naples with Gulf Coast International Properties.
A team of creatives have begun planning for the Arts for ACT Fine Art Auction to benefit the Abuse Counseling and Treatment Center. Philanthropist, community volunteer and expert party planner Marc Collins has been named honorary chair of the to-do, which is set for Nov. 11. There’s a change in venue, though—because Harborside will be undergoing renovations, Arts for ACT will happen at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Estero. With this move, Marc says, “We can expand our reach a bit more into south Fort Myers and Bonita,” Marc says. He also hinted at a possible theme—Purple Rain—which, he said, could mean whatever guests want it to mean. As for me, I think I need to start shopping for a positively phenomenal purple gown.