244 Palm Street, Marco
“You know, when we first opened Café de Marco on April 1, 1983 we joked about it (the Café de Marco) becoming an April fool’s joke on us.” Sandy Scheeler-Franchino said, explaining how she and Dick Scheeler (her first husband) took over a joint called Delaney’s and turned it into an upscale restaurant they named the Café de Marco. Now, of course, Sandy is the sole proprietress and still in the same location for 25-plus years at 244 Palm Street in Old Marco, and the restaurant serves dinner starting at 5 p.m daily. Phone 394-6262 for reservations.
“You could say I married into the restaurant business with my first marriage to an accomplished and successful chef. Dick created many signature dishes that remain on the menu simply because repeat customers wanted consistency on the menu. Over 25 years you substitute, add and keep up with trends, but many remain on the menu. Jumbo prawns are still number one in popularity and Shrimp Lenny, Crab au Gratin and Seafood de Marco Style — a choice of grouper, snapper or mahi baked with mushrooms, seasoned with shallots and garlic butter lightly topped with bread crumbs — is still very popular. One signature soup remained — Lobster Bisque — is really unique and made fresh. It’s been a traditional favorite since 1983 and now we have packaged it in containers for people to take home around the holidays.
From where they (Café de Marco) started and through the years culinary trends came and went but in the 1980s, when people came here they wanted to experience local cuisine, but from our Gulf waters , Sandy said. However in the ’90s her clientele was becoming aware and more adventurous.
“That’s when you came into Chilean sea bass and Hawaiian big eye tuna and Alaskan halibut, rather than halibut readily available from Atlantic waters. During the ’90s people’s culinary tastes expanded and we came full circle. Twenty-five years later, I’m still asked what we have locally.
“The mid-1990s — the transition from when my head chef and husband left to explore other options — I was blessed with a beautiful transition. My sous chef at that time was promoted to head chef, and my ex and I remained on very amicable terms throughout, and I could call on him for consulting purposes whenever, if ever, I found a need to.”
Those were difficult years for several reasons, Sandy explained, because she was running a demanding business while doing her best to raise a four-year-old daughter. “Now, she’s my greatest joy and I’m extremely proud of Samantha -- fourteen years later she’s a junior at UCF and although the University of Central Florida has a wonderful hospitality division I’m pleased that she’s pursuing other areas of interest such as psychology and the physician’s assistant program – just think, she might become a physician’s sous chef!”
This summer she managed the front desk to give mom a night off.
“During her formative years I was fortunate to have the friendship, support and loyalty of many customers as well as making many new customers. That’s not to put too small a price on the support and friendship of my staff or many in the Marco Island community. In giving back I have always tried to foster the ambitions and careers of the many front of the house and back of the house employees that have trained or worked for me.” Sandy stated, adding that she and husband, Joe, have a little joke about Sandy introducing him to people they meet and later, in private, commenting that the person used to work for her and Joe retorting, “Well, who hasn’t!”
Sandy confided she truly felt that her marriage to Joe was not only to him as her husband but also to her re-investment into a new family. “Joe’s two sons, Joe Junior and Michael are my second greatest joy. I’s the light at the end of the tunnel and not about business or careers — it’s about family! We call ourselves the Brady bunch and Samantha enjoys a close and loving relationship with her step-dad and brothers as well and those feelings are reciprocated. Once married in 2000, we since have lived together as a true blended family 24/7!
“Through the years my inspiration has been to maintain the excellent reputation of Café de Marco in the community and to repay that in kind through my efforts with the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce as treasurer and vice president. In addition to my fundraising efforts for Tommie Barfield Elementary and Marco Island Charter School through Dancing with the Starz and other fundraising projects with the two schools, I have also participated in the Taste of Marco benefit for the YMCA and the local chapter of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and the Survivor’s Dinner.”
Sandy praised her entire family for their love and support and credited them for being a major source of strength and energy for the business, noting they provided her with the space to breathe.
“My mom, who will be 82 in a few months, she handles and accepts the reservations over the phone. She writes the checks and counts the money. My brother is a full time waiter. My husband, Joe Franchino, who enjoys cooking, fills in when needed in the kitchen, and our sons have bussed the dining room and washed dishes in the kitchen, and I’ve already mentioned Samantha’s contributions. It goes without saying – if you’re married to Sandy, you’re married to Café de Marco.”
True, Sandy isn’t Wonder Woman but she does shine in one area in the kitchen — Café de Marco’s delectable desserts.
“I’m not a chef and don’t purport to be one. My weakness is not a sweet tooth I have a mouthful of them. For that reason, my contribution to Café de Marco’s kitchen is prevalent through my homemade dessert menu. I created our signature dessert, the Café Puff, and it still stands today and to assuage my weakness for chocolate I created our Chocolate “Molten Lava” Cake!
Sandy’s heritage finds expression on the dessert menu in her grandmother’s original recipe ricotta Italian cheesecake and cannoli.
“We’re continuing our 25th anniversary celebration through April 1 with a special nightly $25 prix fixe menu including a glass of wine and my choice of our special dessert including my secret recipe Chocolate Brownie Sundae creation! This summer I created a flock of tasting desserts that are light as a feather, including bite-sized morsels of tiramisu, Mississippi mud pie, chocolate mousse and peach cobbler that’s available in three or five varieties all served in tiny martini glasses on a little wire stand. I think I get more excited about creating little amusing dessert s presented to our customers rather than actually preparing them!”