NAPLES — Mike Ditka says he couldn’t pass on the opportunity to have his wine served for the first time ever in the restaurant of a fellow Hall of Famer.
“It’s an honor,” Ditka said of his label’s debut this week at Shula’s Steak House in Naples, owned by longtime Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula.
“To have it in Don’s restaurant, that’s special. He has a tremendous business. He’s nationwide, he’s everywhere. I’m very excited about it. It’s a great opportunity to get some exposure.”
Ditka, a North Naples resident, visited Shula’s, 5111 U.S. 41 N., on Wednesday for the event at which servers wore orange T-shirts with “89” on the back, the number Ditka wore when he played primarily for the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys. His playing career spanned from 1961 to 1972 but he’s best known for coaching the 1985 Bears to a Super Bowl win.
Shula’s initially will offer two of Ditka’s wines by-the-glass. The Ditka label is produced by Terlator Wines International, and the wine is produced in the Napa Valley region of California.
The wine labels feature Ditka in stages of his career, from the brush-cut early years in a Bears uniform to his bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ditka’s representatives first approached Shula’s people about debuting the wine at Shula’s restaurant.
“They wanted to sell Mike Ditka wines in Don Shula’s Steakhouse,” said Tom Donahue, general manager of Shula’s Steak House in Naples.
Shula, 83, welcomed the opportunity to see his fellow coaching colleague, and even joked that Ditka, 73, may avoid wanting to discuss the 1985 game between the Bears and Dolphins that Miami won. It was the only blemish on the Bears’ Super Bowl-winning season.
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Shula said running a restaurant business is similar to coaching an NFL team.
“It’s hard work. The attention to detail, that’s probably one of the most important things in coaching,” Shula said. “And certainly in business, you’ve got to make sure you pay attention to everything that’s going on. You need to know the how, why and what. And then you’ve got to make sure the people here are responsible for doing what you want them to do. You’ve got to be able to oversee what’s going on.”
Shula’s restaurant empire encompasses 36 restaurants, from the steak houses to Shula Burger shops primarily on Florida’s east coast.
“I used to spend a lot of time with my assistant coaches, covering every aspect of what I think might happen. And it paid off for me as a coach,” Shula said. “It’s the same in the restaurant business. You’ve got to make sure you cover all aspects of the business. And word of mouth is your best advertising. When the customer goes out and talks about what a great dining experience he’s had, that’s meaningful, because he’s going to come back.”
Ditka said he’s proud of his wine that, like him, isn’t fancy but pretty solid.
“The wine is a good one. But I have to be honest, most wine is good,” Ditka said. “If you get a bad bottle of wine, it’s your own fault.”
The event was an opportunity for the coaching icons to share laughs with guests who paid to attend. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the United Way of Collier County.
Ditka said he enjoys attending such get-togethers with the public.
“Right now, if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be getting ready to go to bed,” he said.