BONITA SPRINGS — The red, A-frame roof building at the southeast corner of Old 41 and Bonita Beach roads has seen its share of change since 1968.
Originally home to a Dairy Queen, the building seems to undergo periodic business changes — most recently as a Mexican eatery and now a cafe.
The 2,742-square-foot site at 28001 Old 41 Road in Bonita Springs, adjacent to the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track, became part of the Lena Kinney Trust from 1993 to 1999, according to Lee County property appraiser data.
From 1990 to 2000, the building served as a temporary location during weekends for businesses, such as those selling fireworks, cars and furniture, according to Lee County records. Then, in June 1999, the site was transferred to Donato Pisani and Marie Pisani. The Pisanis opened Charlene's Restaurant there in the summer of 2000.
Even today, many cafe customers remember the landmark building as the home of Charlene's Restaurant. One of the families that has visited the restaurant since it was Charlene's is the Bowmans, Bonita Springs seasonal residents from Massachusetts.
Getting to the site is a bit of a challenge, but John Bowman said the inconvenience of making a U-turn on Old 41 Road to get to the Old 41 entrance to the restaurant has never stopped him and his wife, Doreen, from frequenting the place.
After the building had been vacant for a year, the Pisanis opened the Monarcas Mexican Restaurant in 2006, according to county records.
Today, there is a 72-seat homey cafe there: Trackside Donuts and Cafe restaurant has been open since September 2011. The cafe offers hand-cut doughnuts, muffins, bread and pastries, with home-cooked breakfast and lunch daily.
Apart from having just one entrance to get there, the eatery is situated at the corner of the widening project on Bonita Beach Road. The construction to expand the road from four lanes to six between Old 41 Road and Lime Street started in October 2011. It is slated for completion in April 2013.
"I have not had many complaints with property owners (about) getting in and out of their business," said Sarah Clarke, project manager of the Lee County Department of Transportation, about the road project.
Trackside Donuts and Cafe co-owner Susie Beckers, who rents the location, said customers have complained about the difficulty of getting to the cafe and having to make a U-turn on Old 41 Road.
However, the cafe hasn't submitted an application for an entrance on Bonita Beach Road and has no plans to add an entrance there.
The business would have to request an entrance through Lee County government's community development department. New driveways would be at the cost of the property owners, Clarke said.
That's what Lowe's is doing.
Lowe's, which plans to open on the northeast corner of Bonita Beach Road and Old 41 Road, paid the engineers for their driveways on Bonita Beach Road, separate from the county's road-widening project.
Before the cafe opened, the site housed Taqueria San Julian, a Mexican eatery, between 2008 and 2009. Owner Leo Alcala said in Spanish that he closed the restaurant because rent was too expensive, not for a lack of clients.
Once clients tried the food, Alcala said, people would return despite the difficulty to reach the restaurant via Bonita Beach Road. Rent at the site was $4,600 a month, plus insurance and utilities — three times more than what it cost him to rent at other business sites in Lee and Collier counties, he said.
The Kalabics, Bonita Springs seasonal residents from Chicago, buy pastries at the cafe about twice a month.
"It's hard to get in and out," said Michaeline Kalabic, as she finished eating her egg croissant on a recent morning.
"But, it's worth it," added her husband, Anthony Kalabic, who ate bacon and eggs for breakfast. They shared a strawberry filled jelly doughnut and took another one home.
Michaeline Kalabic said she hopes that the cafe makes it at the location, unlike the other businesses that have come and gone from the familiar red-roofed, A-frame building at the busy corner.