If you could magically stack up all the Marco restaurants Al Landers has opened, operated, owned, built, worked at, cooked or consulted for in his career, they’d soar out of sight.
Yet Al, now busy with his newest restaurant, Stonewall’s on South Collier, has had many experiences worth chronicling in a variety of walks, strolls and sprints of life.
Our favorite may be Al’s effort to open a bowling alley on Marco.
“I wanted to put it at Shops of Marco, at the end of the strip along San Marco Road,” Al says. “But the landlord there, Publix, wasn’t interested.” Keep looking for a place, Al.
Landers’ colorful career included being a marketer for the Sheraton company in South America.
In a hotel there, Al met members of the rock band, Queen and became friends with the drummer, Roger Taylor. In 1981, Al often went in the band’s motorcade to and from concerts.
“Once our car was next to Freddie Mercury’s limo in Buenos Aires. Some of the fans mistook me for Freddie and a thousand or so surrounded the car, pounding and screaming. That was at a huge concert in Buenos Aires, with 100,000 people in a soccer stadium. It was crazy.”
When Al returned to real life, he met and married Robin and began visiting Marco on weekends, looking for a fun job here. The first was Big Al’s Hoagy House. (See our column last week detailing Al’s eateries here.)
Helping others is high on Al’s agenda. Friends say he worked through the Knights of Columbus helping get scholarships for kids. He was among the founders of the annual Marco Independence Day party, started Thursday night entertainment at Town Center and played a key role in Kiwanis to start up the Christmas boat parades in the ‘80s. He was a major player in creating the Taste of Marco and volunteered on the football coaching staff at Lely High School in the early ‘90s.
His good friend Jim Prange, with whom Al did the Iron Man events in the Marco Collier Sports Fest some years go, says Al helps many people in quiet ways, with no fanfare. Al’s friend and sometimes business associate Nancy Clark puts it simply: “Big Al has a huge heart.”
Al has met a lot of notable people and a few notorious ones, including the late Senator Ted Kennedy.
“I remember drinking tall boy Buds with the Kennedys one night,” Al says. “It was while he was running for president in 1980.” Kennedy later lost his effort to wrestle the Democrat nomination from incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
Then there was Donald Trump. Al’s brush with The Donald had its origins, sort of, in his college days at Florida State, where Al tried out for football, but was discouraged by coach Bobby Bowden, who told Al, “You’d probably be a good player, but we didn’t recruit you. You’d probably be on the practice squad and get hurt.”
After college Al joined the Fort Lauderdale team in the new U.S. Football League. Another league member was Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals.
“I was our team’s player rep so I attended one meeting with Trump. Everyone was afraid of him.”
Court fights ensued, the USFL went away and Al’s football career was over. But it taught him some important life lessons.
“The biggest thing was team work. In restaurants it’s very similar to a team huddle. You got all good players and playing the same way, boy it makes it a lot more fun.“
One hospitality challenge Al remembers was when he was food and beverage manager at Blackbeard’s Restaurant at the former Radisson Hotel here.
“A European lady was sunbathing topless at the hotel pool,” Al recalls. “Kids were giggling and a crowd was forming. My boss told me to go tell her to put her top on, but she spoke no English and misunderstood, so she began taking her bikini bottoms off too.
“ ‘No no no,’ I shouted and threw a towel over her. She understood that.”
That may be the only time Al Landers ever threw in the towel on the job.
P.S. Al keeps remembering more true stories that we hope to share with you in future columns, unless “The View” TV show gets to him first.
Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC-TV stations in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 Fridays in the Naples Daily News. E-mail: email@example.com.