Chapel Grill opens in Naples, celebrates former church building's 65-year history

Co-owner Stephen Fleischer, center, visits with patrons of the Chapel Grill's Chapel Tavern area of the restaurant on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Naples.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Co-owner Stephen Fleischer, center, visits with patrons of the Chapel Grill's Chapel Tavern area of the restaurant on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Naples.

— Pat Walker sat waiting in the entryway for her dinner dates: a daughter-in-law and one of eight sons.

"He's always late," Walker said, glancing at her watch. "I didn't teach him that."

Around her, plates clinked and diners laughed. A violin played.

Mustard walls rose to greet white ceiling beams where spiked, bronze light fixtures dangled over seafood dishes and glasses of wine.

Walker was familiar with the place but not as a restaurant.

"It looks a little different than the wellness center," Walker said. "They've done a lot with it, I can tell."

Built 65 years ago, the First Baptist Church at 811 Seventh Avenue South in downtown Naples served its congregation until 1975. New owners turned the structure into medical offices for the Senior Friendship Health Center, which relocated in 2010.

Last year, Stephen Fleischer bought the vacant building and gained city approval to renovate. Last week, the Chapel Grill opened for business.

"The old lady needed to have a lot of makeup," Fleischer said. "She needed a good work-up."

City officials praise Fleischer for his decision to revamp rather than demolish the building through the concept of adaptive reuse in which owners find modern uses for old buildings while maintaining their historic look.

"The great thing is Steve spent his money to restore that building where it would have been a lot less expensive to tear it down," said Mayor John Sorey, who has been to the restaurant several times since its ribbon-cutting.

In homage to the building's history, Fleischer is saving a blank wall over plush booth seating in the dining room for photos to commemorate the church and health center. One patron plans to submit her grandmother's wedding day photo taken on the front steps.

Fleischer had a clock face installed on the steeple, and new chimes ring through downtown every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Signs marking the valet parking lots read "Thou Shalt Not Park Here."

Murphy, a 12-year veteran of the hospitality industry, has been on board with the project since Fleischer bought the building, helping to decide everything from the color scheme to the menu options.

Patrons can enjoy barbecue-flavored Chapel Log Fries with herb ranch dipping sauce for $4.20 or $8.40 portions, or the Coco Loco Calamari for $10.20 to start. Meals include the Chapel Rock Chop for $25.80. There's a kids' menu, too.

Murphy said half of the restaurant's 60 staffers were unemployed in the off season before starting work this month.

"They were waiting to come here," she said.

Marybeth Mahoney and Larry Kinney walked by the finished restaurant after voting at City Hall last week and liked what they saw. They came back Wednesday for a bite outside on one of the restaurant's three patio areas.

Kinney smoked a cigar from home and Mahoney sipped wine while enjoying a quiet evening blocks from a bustling Fifth Avenue South. The pair pondered a stack of menus, some offering bar food and others, the full dining menu with salads and desserts.

"Didn't we get a flu shot here once or something?" Kinney said.

"Yeah," Mahoney said, "we did."

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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