The restaurants we lost: A look back at 2021's closures in Fort Myers, Naples

It's been another rough year for local restaurants. We take a look back at some of the notable names we lost in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Naples.

Annabelle Tometich
Fort Myers News-Press

2021 marked a second year of uncertainty for Southwest Florida's restaurants. Tack on soaring food prices, skyrocketing rents and a staffing shortage no one can seem to solve, and it was a wild ride.

One that some chefs and restaurateurs opted out of. 

"It's like owning a boat," Matt Asen, a partner in the Fort Myers-based Prawnbroker Restaurant Group, said in a November interview. "The happiest day is the day you buy it, and the next happiest day is the day you sell it."

In the fall, Asen and his associates sold and closed their Sanibel restaurant Matzaluna after 27 years in operation. The move was about slowing down, but it was also about consolidation. The partners still own four restaurants in Lee County, and Asen said being able to use former Matzaluna employees to help staff their other concepts made sense. 

"Where anyone's getting help from, I don't know," Asen said. "It's dire out there."

Matzaluna the Italian Kitchen closed in November after 27 years on Sanibel.

That sense of hopelessness has led some in the industry to look for employment elsewhere. Chef Brooke Wagenheim of Chef Brooke's Natural Cafe in Fort Myers, which closed in October, is looking to move out of state according to a Facebook post. Jay Gillmore, the chef-owner of Restoratives Cafe in Estero, closed his restaurant Dec. 18 and is considering working with an ayahuasca retreat in Orlando or possibly a job in neurolinguistics therapy.

"It’s important that I really give myself a chance to reset," he said in a December interview. 

MORE:Restoratives Cafe closing in Estero, Lucha Libre serving tacos in Naples

AND:Ristorante Ciao says 'Ciao' after 34 years in business

Others are tired of employment altogether. Chef Gianfranco Loreti closed the 34-year-old Ristorante Ciao in Naples to retire and spend more time at the beach. John Browning, who sold and closed Clancey's in Fort Myers in March, plans to play golf, lots of golf.  

Ristorante Ciao owner and head chef Gianfranco Loreti and his business partner and restaurant manager Carol Rosen pose for a portrait, Thursday,  April, 15, 2021, at their restaurant in Naples.

Not all restaurants closed by choice. For many, closure was the only choice. 

Here's a look back at some more of the notable restaurants we lost in 2021. 

China Taste: After 26 years serving kung pao chicken, wonton soup and so much more at 2960 Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers, China Taste closed in the fall. A neighborhood favorite, as well as a longtime News-Press favorite for office delivery, China Taste opened in 1995. State records show the restaurant’s owner as Jian Wang. Attempts to reach Wiang were unsuccessful.

Clancey's: The Irish-themed restaurant that opened at 11481 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers in the late 1970s closed March 18, the day after St. Patrick's Day. The building's new owner, Terry Persaud, also owns Sunset Beach Tropical Grill on Fort Myers Beach. He reopened the 1,200-square-foot space as Whiskey Creek Station in April. Persaud also owns a neighboring property and said he's considering tearing both down, pending rezoning, to build something bigger and better. 

FROM MARCH:Clancey's restaurant closes, to reopen as Whiskey Creek Station

Clancey's, a Fort Myers classic for more than 40 years, closed in March and is now Whiskey Creek Station.

East End Deli: What started as a temporary closure became a more permanent one when the deli at 359 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel reopened Oct. 29 as The Fig East, a gourmet-convenience-store concept from Chef Jeramie and Debra Campana, the couple behind Paper Fig Kitchen, who are also partners in 400 Rabbits, Bamboo Pan Asian Kitchen and the forthcoming Tutti Pazzi, all of which are also on Sanibel. According to East End's Facebook page, the deli "will return, just not in 2021. MisU2."

MORE:On Sanibel, out with the old (Matzaluna, East End, Il Tesoro) in with the new

Founders Market & Bistro: This farm-to-plate concept originally opened in North Naples in February 2020. After closing, reworking its menu and reopening, it closed for good in May according to Gulfshore Business

#GetFried Fry Cafe is known for its fries with unique toppings.

#GetFried Fry Cafe: This franchise opened in Estero's University Village in March 2019. It closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic but reopened in October of that year, according to its Facebook page. It appears to have permanently closed in the spring. 

Grunge Eats: Grunge operated briefly in the former Enter The Dragon (and before that, Danger Danger) space at 1017b Cape Coral Parkway E., Cape Coral. It appears to have closed in March. 

Gustito's Peruvian Bakery & Cafe: Known for its empanadas and baked goods, Gustito's closed abruptly in September at 5417 Airport-Pulling Road, Naples. 

Hurricane Grill & Wings: The chain closed its Estero (Coconut Point) and Naples (6345 Naples Blvd.) locations this year. 

Marlins Brewhouse closed its locations in Estero, shown here, and in south Fort Myers.

Marlins Brewhouse, Cali Burger and Chronic Tacos: The two Marlins locations in south Fort Myers and Estero closed this year along with their adjoining fast-casual concepts, Chronic Tacos in south Fort Myers, and Cali Burger in Estero. Coldwater Oyster Market opened in November in the former south Fort Myers Marlins space at 5611 Six Mile Commercial Court. 

Nathan's Famous: After closing his original location in Fort Myers last year, Ray Masciana closed his Nathan's at 1897 Del Prado Blvd. S., Cape Coral in November. 

The Parrot Bar & Grill: This restaurant in Naples' Tin City closed in September after being evicted a month shy of its 11th anniversary. 

After 18 years at Cape Harbour in south Cape Coral, Rumrunners closed in December.

Rumrunners: After 18 years at Cape Harbour in south Cape Coral, Rumrunners closed in December when the owners failed to reach a lease agreement with their landlord. Chef and co-owner Todd Johnson is at work on a new restaurant, Nosh on Naples Bay, which he hopes to open in the coming weeks in the Naples Bay Resort & Marina at 1490 Fifth Ave. S., Naples. 

MORE:Rumrunners to close at Cape Harbour after 18 years

AND:New restaurant coming to Naples Bay Resort, get ready to Nosh

Wharf Tavern & Lobster House: Also on Naples Bay, Wharf closed in April after 10 years in operation by the Diodati family according to floridaweekly.com

World of Beer at Bell Tower: When this bar and restaurant opened in 2011, craft beer was a novel concept in Southwest Florida. Ten years later, the area's original World of Beer at Bell Tower, 13499 S. Cleveland Ave., south Fort Myers, has closed. The World of Beer at Gulf Coast Town Center remains open. 

Annabelle Tometich is a staff writer for The News-Press and Naples Daily News. Connect with this reporter: atometich@news-press.com; @abellewrites (Instagram); @atometich (Twitter).