SHOP TALK: Restaurateur always thinking, “What does Marco need next?”

CHRIS CURLE

Al Landers, an Islander whose customers become his friends

Because so many interesting people live on Marco Island, we decided to offer this quick quiz:

n What Marco man once met with Donald Trump to talk about a business deal?

n Who is the local resident who traveled with the famous rock group Queen and was often mistaken for Queen’s superstar Freddy Mercury?

n Which Marco man dreamed up and helped launch the first Christmas boat parade on Marco? He also helped create the first Taste of Marco.

Long, long-time Islanders may have figured out by now that the achievers described here are one in the same man — a colorful, creative, complicated guy — Big Al — Al Landers, best known here perhaps for his restaurants, the latest of which is Stonewall’s, a high concept but casual place on South Collier Boulevard.

Al hasn’t actually built, owned and operated all the eateries on Marco; it just seems that way. His first was Big Al’s Hoagy House at Town Center in 1985. A year later he added the Sports Pub next door, featuring Marco’s first big screen TV. “I thought it was hot (stuff),” Al laughed.

“I got antsy, asking myself what sort of restaurant Marco needed next. So I opened Marco’s first hamburger place, Kahuna’s Restaurant.”

Not long after Al sold Kahuna’s a horrible car accident almost killed him and his wife Robin.

“We were returning from an evening in Naples when a drunk driver T-boned us and put our car partially into a canal, on (State Route) 951 near Manatee Road.” Their recovery took many painful months.

“Eventually I went back to work, on crutches, but it was too hard and I couldn’t run three restaurants, so I sold Big Al’s and the pub. I had to start over.”

After stints as food and beverage director at the former Radisson Hotel here and a partnership in Marco’s first diner, Palm Garden, (which later became Mustang Sally’s and then Cocomo’s), Al built Bucwheats. One day, “after an 18 second negotiation, the contract covered in barbecue sauce,” Al sold Bucwheats to Michelbob’s Ribs. That was in 1992.

“We bought a camper and traveled around a bit, then I started a company, Energy Efficient Lighting, and to this day I’m a lighting contractor.” He was on the road most of the time all over the eastern U.S.

“Robin got pregnant again and with two kids, being on the road so much got old.”

In 1997, Al returned to the restaurant business.

“Sharon’s Gourmet Pantry was going out of business and I bought it and resurrected the Big Al’s name on Bald Eagle Drive.” He sold it three years later, all the time asking himself, ‘What else doesn’t Marco have?’”

“I thought, ‘How about a place where your kids could play in a kids room and you could have a nice dinner and a martini and relax while the kids have fun?’” That idea became Bimini’s, which he built from the ground up on South Collier Boulevard.

“People had a high regard for the fun atmosphere of the place. It was a good restaurant, but I sold my partnership in 2004 because I wanted to go back and take over the Mustang Sally property that became Cocomo’s.”

Other restaurants Al has had a hand in here include the Islander, Froots, the name of which Al changed to “Roots,” and now, Stonewall’s.

Then there’s the story of “Blackbeard’s” at the Radisson, a tale reflecting the credo, “It’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it.”

We’ll have that next week in this space, plus Al’s adventures with Ted Kennedy, Donald Trump, Freddie Mercury and professional football.

Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC-TV stations in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston. E-mail chris@chriscurle.com.

Don is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and a former news anchor for CNN and ABC-TV in Atlanta. His Farmer File column appears Wednesdays in the Naples Daily News. E-mail: don@donfarmer.com.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 1

captnjimbo writes:

Big Al does have a touch.

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