Q: We’ve been up North in Minnesota all summer and have been wondering what the status is of our favorite dinner spot, the Mangrove Cafe. We haven’t heard anything about it since we left and wonder if the rebuilding is or will be starting. Thanks.
— Jan and Tom, Richville, Minn., and Naples
Q: My wife and I are interested in an update on our favorite restaurant, that being Mangrove’s on Fifth Avenue. We walked by this week as we ate our ice cream cones and looked into the windows and checked out the back entrance area. Yes, work is being done, but it appears that much still needs to be completed. The last we were told was that an October or November opening is what the owners were shooting for. It really looks like it will be a lot longer than that.
— Sharlene and Bill Kearney
A: Expect the longtime restaurant to reopen in October, said Diane Amaral, who co-owns Mangrove Cafe with her husband, Doug.
“I’ll know more in the next 10 days,” Diane Amaral said Saturday. “It’s like baby steps now. We can’t wait to get back open.”
Although the restaurant has operated for 20 years on Fifth Avenue South near Four Corners, consider its reopening a debut based on its many upgrades and complete renovation necessary because of the destructive propane gas explosion in January. The reopening has been delayed a few times.
As noted, a lot of work is yet to be done at the restaurant, but quite a bit is scheduled to be done in the next few weeks. The Amarals’ list of “baby steps” includes assembling staff, paving the lot, interior decorating and ordering food.
This week, the rear of the restaurant will be dug up for the third time to install three 1,250-gallon grease traps, an upgrade necessary to bring the business up to city code, Diane Amaral said. The back area was previously dug up this year when the electrical lines were relocated underground, and when the fire sprinkler system was installed, she said.
The restaurant’s kitchen hood and walk-in cooler are in place, and the flooring and interior painting are being completed. Later this week, the restaurant’s sign and awning are expected to be installed outside, Amaral said.
“We’re getting really close,” Diane Amaral said. “We’re almost there. We’re almost open.”
New Florida Blue
Q: I am wondering what is being constructed next to the new Olive Garden in Coconut Point. Heard lots of rumors, but hopefully you are in the know.
— Paulette, Estero
A: That’s going to be Florida Blue, a freestanding office for Blue Cross Blue Shield, according to Diane Ivey, director of business and development at Coconut Point in Estero.
The new Florida Blue center, expected to open by the end of October, is the seventh in the state. The business is designed to offer customers a retail contact and an interactive face-to-face experience.
The centers also host frequent health fairs and free wellness lectures and seminars, according to information on floridablue.com. Other Florida Blue offices are located in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Pensacola.
As for the new Olive Garden, expect it to open soon on Swan Lake. When contacted about an opening date for the Darden chain restaurant, Olive Garden spokeswoman Heidi Schauer said the company will be announcing details about this new restaurant within the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Francesca’s Collections boutique is coming to Coconut Point in the first quarter of 2012 next to Clarks clothing store on Fashion Drive, Ivey said. The national chain has a location in the Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, but because each store is different, expect something new at its Coconut Point location.
More local restaurant news
■ Pete-zza opened Sept. 8 at 28811 U.S. 41 S., in Bonita Springs. The new restaurant is in the former home of Bonita Rice Bowl, next door to Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, in Shops at Hidden Lakes just north of the Lee-Collier county line.
Through September, Pete-zza is offering 10 percent off all orders during its opening month, said owner Peter Ventrice, who also gives military personnel 10 percent off any time. In addition, Ventrice offers a “back door promotion,” in which anyone picking up their to-go order from the rear of the restaurant receives $1 off.
Pete-zza’s grand opening block party, “Dancing on the Black Top,” will be Nov. 8 from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tickets for the celebration are $20, covering the music and all-you-can-eat food, Ventrice said.
Pete-zza’s large classic New York cheese pizza is regularly only $14, and the pizzeria also has white pizzas and Sicilian-style pies for dine-in, take out or delivery.
Besides pizza, Pete-zza’s menu includes hot subs, pasta dishes, and chicken and veal entrees. To finish off a meal, choose cannoli or spumoni and an espresso or a cappuccino.
In addition, Pete-zza caters — “any type of food, any type of affair,” Ventrice said.
■ Cafe Luna, 467 Fifth Ave. S., is adding an indoor/outdoor bar to its downtown Naples restaurant. The business will remain open during most, if not all, of the expansion project, expected to start in October and last about two months, said owner Ed Barsamian. All seating will be open air as all the windows in front of the restaurant will be removed, according to a news release.
“Cafe Luna will be bigger and better, and we will not change ‘A Veally Good Deal’,” Barsamian said, referring to the restaurant’s ongoing special of $29.99 for two dinners and a bottle of wine.
■ Little Caesar’s Pizza closed its North Naples location in Bed Bath & Beyond Plaza, 5337 Airport-Pulling Road N., on Sept. 12 after operating for 24 years, according to franchise owner John Verrot. The other area Little Caesar’s Pizza locations, operated by different franchisees, remain open.
After opening the first Naples location for Little Caesar’s Pizza in the former Grand Central Station in 1986, Verrot and his two brothers opened their second location at Pine Ridge and Airport-Pulling roads the next year, he said. Over time, the family operated five different Little Caesar franchisees in the area. The North Naples location that closed this month was the last one still operated by Verrot.
“I’m unemployed for the first time in my life,” said Verrot, 48. “This is the only thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never had another job and never been unemployed in my life until (Sept. 12).”
In the end, because of the tough economy during the past couple of years, Verrot said he saw his personal piece of the pie keep getting smaller as expenses for food and insurance kept growing. It’s difficult to make a lot of money selling Hot N’ Ready pizzas for $5.55, he said.
Although his pizza place was not making the sales necessary lately to remain viable, Verrot doesn’t have regrets about his career.
“A business that is open 24 years is not a failure by any means,” he said.
Verrot said he remembers when the busy corner at Pine Ridge and Airport-Pulling roads had orange groves where Carillon Place is today and cattle on the other corners where Sports Authority and Pine Ridge Crossing shopping center are now.
Little Caesar’s corporate office initially thought Verrot was too far north of Naples when he planned to locate a franchise on that corner in what was then known as Ridgeport Plaza. The plaza was renamed in 1995 to Bed Bath & Beyond Plaza when the national retailer agreed to be the center’s anchor, moving into the space vacated by Winn-Dixie.
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