26811 South Bay Drive #126 , Bonita Springs, FL
2329 US 41 North, Naples, FL
Pewter Mug, 12300 U.S. 41 N.
One of the oldest Naples eateries has buckled under economic pressure and closed its doors for the summer, possibly for good, after 39 years.
The Pewter Mug, which opened in 1970 at 12300 U.S. 41 N., has closed for four months, and if the landlord finds a new tenant during that time the steakhouse could be gone for good.
It’s among half a dozen restaurants to have closed recently; others include Chardonnay Nouveau along U.S. 41 and Blu Sushi, in The Plaza on Third Street South, both in Naples.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to make it through the summer,” said Arthur Theriault, who owns the business with his sister, Rosie Keyser.
The restaurant was famous for its prime rib and salad bar, but business struggled last summer, losing about 15 percent, and this season’s revenues couldn’t cover the gap. Rent fell three months behind, said the man who has been with the restaurant since its beginning.
Theriault said the property owner has been generous, agreeing to work with Theriault to reopen in September if no other tenants move in. The property owner could not be reached for comment.
“We had a great run, it’s been fun,” Theriault said. “It’ll be a heartache if we can’t get reopened. I can’t imagine not being opened even though it doesn’t look good right now.”
Situated on an island in the Cocohatchee River bisected by U.S. 41 N., the restaurant in 1970 had been considered to be the middle of nowhere, Theriault said. Some thought it wouldn’t survive.
But consistent quality food and service brought a steady stream of loyal clients. It also built a force of committed employees.
Mike Pilarski, 53, worked for The Pewter Mug since 1973. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to a cook and manager. He even worked part time when he had his own carpentry business.
“The people I work with are really great,” Pilarski said. “We get a lot of loyal local customers and you get to know them on a personal basis.”
Pilarski saw the writing on the wall last summer but was still saddened at the news the restaurant would close.
“It’s kind of like, you’re almost at a loss for words,” he said. “I get a sinking feeling.”
But he stands ready to return “in a heartbeat” should The Pewter Mug reopen there or in another location.
While the recession was the final blow, The Pewter Mug faced other economic hardships.
It closed for a few months a handful of years ago when U.S. 41 was widened and construction made service at steakhouse practically impossible, Theriault said.
Once it reopened, the restaurant had lost some parking spaces and its water boundaries eliminate possible expansion. Potential customers often circle the lot a few times and drive off leaving empty seats inside.
“Our parking lot holds so many cars and for years we’ve been maxed out in the season,” he said. “We’re kind of stuck.”
Janis Johnson, a 48-year-old North Naples resident, had eaten at the restaurant a couple of times, but not in recent years.
“I feel sad that it’s closing because it’s an institution in Naples,” Johnson said. “It represents when Naples was a slower, quieter place that hadn’t been discovered yet.”
Naples Backyard History adviser Lois Bolin said that sense of loss when an icon closes is typical.
“History connects us and we feel like we belong,” Bolin said. “It’s going to feel like a deep loss. ... It holds memories, 39 years of memories.”
As seasonal residents scatter from Southwest Florida, and locals concerned with the recession lose their appetites for dining out, several restaurants have been wiped out.
Mike Reagen, president and chief executive officer of The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, said visitors to the area dropped off by about 10 percent.
“This past season, the number of people here were down but a lot of people that were here were not spending money,” Reagen said. “The real issue ... is, what’s the future going to hold?” he said. “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
As diners stayed home, other established restaurants took a hit.
Chardonnay Nouveau opened in September 2007 after having closed for about a year when the owners of the original restaurant, Chardonnay, retired.
It has been Chardonnay and Chardonnay Nouveau for about 20 years and has now closed for the summer.
Owner Russell Rosen could not be reached for comment.
Former Chardonnay Nouveau server James Spangler, who joined Chardonnay shortly after its new start, said closing was the best decision the owner could make.
“If the business goes down, there’s no use in spending that much money (on advertising) to drum up business to keep the doors open,” Spangler said.
Blu Sushi, in The Plaza on Third Street South since 2004, has also closed.
Jonathan Carter, a chef at the Hideout Golf Club in Golden Gate, said Monday he was shocked.
He peered through the glass doors and tried to photograph the closed sign with his phone to text to his wife who was meeting him there for lunch.
Between the two of them, they ate at the trendy sushi and martini bar at least once a week.
“A lot of people just don’t want to come out and spend their money,” Carter said.
The closure is less to do with the economy and more to do with location, said owner Courtney Jones.
About half a dozen surrounding shops in The Plaza sit empty, some with lease signs that paper the windows.
“It’s just a ghost town, we’re the only people in there,” he said of The Plaza that has been taken over by a bank. “There are so many other upscale, exciting new properties we can be a part of. It makes no sense to sit there in a dead center that doesn’t promote itself.”
Jones said he is in negotiations for a space in North Naples.
Outstanding gift cards will be good at Blu Sushi’s two Fort Myers locations, on McGregor Boulevard and in the Gulf Coast Town Center.
Other closings include Mr. G’s Italian Ristorante & Bar in North Naples on U.S. 41 N., Cheeburger Cheeburger on Airport-Pulling Road in East Naples, and Bennigan’s in The Promenade at Bonita Bay and Mile High Burger Co. in the Sunshine Plaza in Bonita Springs.