NAPLES — Doug Amaral thinks of his staff as more than just employees.
So the long-awaited reopening of his popular downtown Naples restaurant is more than just getting business back after a forced closure. It's also about reuniting his family.
Mangrove Cafe, 878 Fifth Ave. S., will reopen for dinner Thursday 10 months after a propane explosion in January forced Amaral to close the restaurant and make significant repairs.
Amaral said Tuesday the majority of his staff will be returning to work when he reopens the doors this week.
"It's like bringing a family back together," he said.
Fire officials in January said they believed the large fireball that blew out windows, knocked down walls and detached the roof of the restaurant was triggered by propane leak erupting next to a running car. While fire officials said the building may need to be demolished, a total renovation of the restaurant ultimately prevailed.
"We started all the way to the bare walls," he said.
New floors and new lighting are among the changes. The restaurant also received a new kitchen, nearly double the size of the previous kitchen.
The restaurant had to get rid of its wine room — because of city regulations, but replaced it with a water feature behind the bar. But Amaral said the changes aren't anything more than small upgrades, and the overall look and feel of the restaurant hasn't changed too much.
"We are going to have the same warm family feel," Amaral said.
Amaral also said customers will "see the same faces" and experience the same "comfortable feeling" when they walk in the doors.
Not everyone is returning to the Fifth Avenue South restaurant. Amaral said William McCauley, the Mangrove Cafe chef injured in the explosion, will not be returning when the doors open Thursday.
Amaral said the reason McCauley is not returning is because the restaurant will not be serving lunch. McCauley, he said, worked the lunch shift. Amaral said he has been in touch with the former chef and said he seemed to be doing well since the accident.
Tom Smith, a driver for Bal Gas Propane, was injured in the explosion earlier this year, but a spokesperson for the company could not be reached to comment Tuesday on how his condition. A third person was also injured.
Amaral said he's hopeful his restaurant —which has been on Fifth Avenue South for about 20 years — will be able to rebound in the coming months. But he also knows that comeback is dependent on getting people in the door.
But Lise Sundrla, executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District, said that shouldn't be a problem. Sundrla said people on the street have been "eagerly anticipating the reopening of Mangrove."
"Everyone is very excited and looking forward to have the business back up and running on the street," she said. "The community has been talking about it for a while, downtown businesses and property owners are eagerly awaiting it. It will be a great boon to the street ... and also a wonderful reintroduction to a local favorite."