MARCO ISLAND — That phrase, “I came, I saw, I loved it, I stayed,” is how long-time Marco restaurateur Konrad Meyerhofer remembers events when he first got to Marco Island in 1981.
He had left a prestigious job as executive chef at the Essex Hotel in Manhattan for a similar position at the Marco Marriott.
Three years later he opened his own place, the Bavarian Inn on Winterberry Drive. That began a 28-year run as a restaurateur that will come to a close at the end of this month, at least temporarily.
It was not Konrad’s choice to close his restaurant at Marco Walk – the one he opened in 1991.
“We’ve lost our lease as of May 31,” Konrad told us. “The landlord wanted me to make some changes I didn’t like. He wanted the space where the kitchen is and wanted me to use the small space where Five Brothers Pizza was.”
Now that he is leaving Marco Walk plaza, we asked Konrad about the days of yore, including when he ran both the B.I. and the place with his name on the sign.
The “B.I.,” as the Bavarian Inn became known, was a watering hole for locals, who allowed tourists to join them, us, now and then. Seriously, it was a combination of the camaraderie of TV’s “Cheers,” a German wine stube and a Bavarian bierhalle. Oh and it was a restaurant as well.
“It seemed everybody knew everybody and they’d all come in for a good time,” Konrad told us.
“We’ve always done continental menus with a German flair, a little Bavaria on a tropical Island. And I made a lot of trips across Winterberry Drive and back.”
“That’s true,” recalls long-time Islander Kathryn Hunt. “He was constantly running back and forth, the consummate businessman, keeping a close eye on both.
“He always makes everyone feel welcome and at home. One time when I barely knew much about Bavaria, German clients who bought a house here through me were going to land at the Marco Island Airport and I wanted to welcome them, so Konrad got a big Bavarian flag for me to greet them. We hung that flag and an American flag on the fence when they landed.
“At Konrad’s restaurants, German clientele used to love to have birthdays there, because he would decorate the tables with Bavarian flags and such.”
Loyalty, then and now – and what’s next?
That spirit of loyal patrons continued at the Konrad’s in the plaza.
“I have the Tuesday gang and a Thursday gang and other regulars,” Konrad said with a smile. “Yesterday some Jewish friends asked me, ‘What are we going to do on Yom Kippur?’ because I always had the Jewish community here for Yom Kippur.”
Charlie Cummins, a ringleader, sort of, of the Tuesday regulars.
“It’s very sad, very,” Charlie says. “I’ve known Konrad for many years and he’s a wonderful friend.”
Judy Sacher says Konrad is a great host as well.
“I think he always cares about all his customers and I think they are more friends to him than customers. He is charming and funny and dependable. We always know we could count on the food being very good. We’ll miss that.”
Konrad has seen a lot of changes in the restaurant business here over the years. For example how diners dress.
“When I worked at the Marriott, in the dining room, you had a jacket and tie. Nobody wears a jacket and a tie on Marco any more. If we asked for jacket and tie, we’d have no customers.
“Also, people don’t like to go out late anymore. Years ago people would come in at 9 and 10 o’clock. But as people get older they want to eat earlier.
“The menu has evolved as well. We’ve put on more sandwiches, fish and chicken to accommodate the lighter eater. But we’ve kept the originals too, including the German dishes.”
The staff at Konrad’s is upset, of course.
“They are very loyal,” he says. Some have been with me 15 years or more. They will stay here until the last day and then they say as soon as I open up something, they will come back.”
So what about that? What’s next for Konrad?
“At the moment I don’t have a job, so I will relax a little bit,” he says. “I’ll have a couple of months off for going to the beach and fishing.”
Most of Konrad’s friends and customers expect there will be another Konrad’s Restaurant in Marco Island’s not too distant future. Rumor has it the line of loyalists already is forming.
Meanwhile, owners of another Marco restaurant are planning to open a steak and seafood venue in the space Konrad is vacating, but won’t say so publicly as of this writing.
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.