NAPLES — Naples' historic Dairy Queen, its red-peaked roof a downtown landmark for more than 50 years, is closing next week to make way for a new DQ Grill & Chill opening about three blocks north on U.S. 41.
The last day of business planned for the original DQ location, 410 Ninth St. N., will be at the end of next week, when the new Grill & Chill at 694 Ninth St. N. opens.
"We plan on opening on Friday and we will be open for Labor Day weekend," said Michael Marciano Sr., who has owned the local DQ franchise for the last 13 of its more than 50-year existence.
"I think, according to the city, other than the Naples Beach Hotel, we are the oldest continuing restaurant in the Naples area," he said of the local DQ, which opened in 1958 or 1959.
The question as to what will become of the classic A-frame that has been a local fixture for a half century doesn't have an easy answer. The property has been the center of an ongoing legal dispute for three years.
Marciano filed a lawsuit in August 2009 against the owners of the original DQ property, George and Marion Barbour, the father-daughter partnership that preceded Marciano as DQ franchisees.
"We had an option to purchase," Marciano said. "I would have liked to have stayed there."
But when Marciano attempted to exercise his option to purchase the property, the Barbours cited a technicality regarding a notification deadline for renewal of the lease and would not sell the property to him, court records show. The case is now in appeals court.
"It's a very bad situation. Who knows how long this is going to go on," Marion Barbour said.
Although who owns the 10th of an acre is in dispute, county property appraiser records name the Barbours as the landowners. George Barbour died in April at 87.
"If I'm lucky enough to get it back, I'm going to refurbish the building," Marion Barbour said. "I really do like that postage stamp there."
She said the property is probably at its maximum use now, so it most likely wouldn't be anything else but a food-related business.
The classic building is nostalgic to many who have stopped by over the years for a soft-serve ice cream treat or a chili dog.
Kristine Twente, a Naples paralegal, fondly remembers the old DQ on the corner of Fourth Avenue North.
"When I was a kid growing up, my Mom and Dad owned a business on Fifth Avenue North. The back door opened up into the alley behind it. Right down the alley, I could walk alone to Dairy Queen and get a Mr. Misty and a cheeseburger," Twente said. "I felt so adult and independent even though I was 8. It was in the '70s/early '80s, so I guess it was safe. It was a win-win situation. I got out of my parents hair for a while and I got Dairy Queen."
Drew Gretz's memories of the local DQ from only a decade ago conjure up thoughts of a '50s drive-in.
"The Dairy Queen on 41 was always one of our stops when my buddy and I were out cruising in our cars. We used to order our delicious ice cream cones and then walk next door to Supreme Auto to check out the cars that were there," said Gretz, now landfill operations supervisor for the Collier County Solid & Hazardous Waste Management Department. "We're going to miss it, but my buddy and I will be there the last day it's open to bid farewell."
A 40-year resident of Naples is concerned about the loss of the iconic local ice cream shop that she wrote Marciano an impassioned letter pleading for him to reconsider his move. Sarah Innis says the local store is closing, not just moving up the street.
"Please don't take this pleasure — this treasure — from us," she wrote.
Innis says the modern store won't compare to the original, and encouraged the owner to take his own family to the old place and sit on the picnic tables outside to enjoy ice cream treats while taking in the breeze and sunsets in a place that attracts all kinds of people, some with dogs in tow.
"Children are everywhere, some in bathing suits or team practice shirts and, of course, the little girl all dressed up, parents in work clothes or shorts, teenagers on a first date, people from a dinner on Fifth Avenue looking so nice that you just have to compliment them, visitors with many accents, people of all ages all drawn to the little A-frame, knowing this will be an enjoyable time, no matter how the rest of the day has gone," Innis writes.
Naples artist Paul Arsenault has created an original painting of the old DQ that will be unveiled at the opening of the new restaurant, where the painting will hang, Marciano said. The building that was the former longtime home of Manhattan Bagel and Ric's Café, which closed at the end of April, has been completely renovated for the new DQ.
Photo by TIM ATEN // Buy this photo
In addition to a new name and location, the Grill & Chill will be a full-service restaurant with indoor seating, more parking, and an expanded menu.
"We are going to do breakfast, but not immediately," Marciano said.
The new location also will offer DQ cakes and ice cream cupcakes, as well as specialty cakes and other novelties.
"It's the same great ice cream and team of employees," Marciano said. "We've hired four extra employees. We anticipate more business.
We are looking to have a bang-up Labor Day weekend as our first weekend."
Marciano is on a picture hunt, especially for photos from when the original store first opened with the long-retired DQ logo of a Dutch girl in a blue dress.
"The front of the building used to have this big Dutch girl on it," he said.
Anyone who can bring in historic photos of the old DQ will be rewarded with free ice cream, he said.