You could not have convinced me, one year ago, that the restaurant industry would power through the long pandemic months with such vigor, imagination and bravado. Moving, shaking, expanding, reinventing. Who could have thought that restaurant and drinkery owners would take advantage of pandemic economics to meet new needs in creative ways that we once thought were impossible? They are superhumans in the world of small business and hospitality, and I salute them.
Many restaurants bolstered their staying power by increasing outdoor seating. Bar Tulia on Fifth Avenue South added Nonna’s Garden with 50 seats, and then went on to assemble a spinoff hybrid in Mercato, which launched in April. Alexander’s Restaurant in midtown Naples, added six more tables to its already highly demanded three-level garden space. To keep fellow tenants of the plaza appeased, staff must store the tables each night, but they do so happily to keep things moving forward. Gloria M. Jordan-Cabral of Fort Myers’ La Trattoria Cafe Napoli fame, took outdoor dining to new heights with her three-acre, special-event kitchen, dining and entertainment space at Dim Jandy Ranch in Fort Myers. Lake Park Diner, contrary to the trend, added a new air-conditioned indoor space, but with an open-air feel, to its previous all-outdoor layout.
Some changed their footprints, refreshed concepts and mounted major renovations, often related to social distancing. In Cape Coral, Overtime Pizzeria & Sports Pub went upstairs and upscale with its nightlife-happening The Loft at OT. Bistro 821, Fifth Avenue South’s game-changer back in 1994, underwent its most extensive renovation to date. “After the shutdown, we decided we didn’t want to be the guys who just rode the pandemic out,” Jesse Housman, who has been involved in the restaurant since it sparked downtown’s dining renaissance, says. “‘Don’t lose confidence in the bistro’ was the message we wanted to send.”
Another Fifth Avenue restaurant, Pazzo! Cucina Italiana pushed onward with its plan to up its luxury factor to the tune of $1 million to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Down the street, Vergina came back after the stay-at-home order with a new look and sound system. It opened up its space by eighty-sixing the marble columns and making other cosmetic improvements.
At D’Amico & Sons in mid-Naples, a full renovation produced Ziggy D’Amico’s Whiskey Bar & Diner. Along with the new look inside and for its 100-seat patio, came a fresh concept that updated the menu and added a craft cocktail program at its marble-topped bar. One of four Brooks Burgers locations in Naples, too, upscaled its concept, when Brooks Tavern & Grill added steaks and seafood to its Logan Landings’ menu.
A number of food and beverage venues opened spinoffs and brand-new ventures—or are working to, anyway. Sails Restaurant makes the biggest splash with two new restaurants expected to open this year. Its next-door Sava explores an eat-for-health concept in a French farmhouse setting, while The Butcher brings a design-forward steakhouse to North Naples.