Busy, busy, busy: Joey D’s is packed after opening this month

Lance Shearer

Opening a new Marco Island restaurant in the depths of July’s “dog days” could be an invitation to disaster, hemorrhaging cash and trying to hang on until the influx of seasonal people allow your fledgling venture to get into the black.

For Joey D’s, not so much.

“We wanted to have a nice slow start,” giving them time to fine-tune and tweak the new Joey D’s location, said Marco Island general manager Ted Rosensweig. “It didn’t happen.”

Owner Joseph DiPascale in the dining room. Joey D's Italian Restaurant & Bar on Bald Eagle Drive has drawn crowds since opening on July 17.

Looking around the capacious bar area at Joey D’s Italian Restaurant & Bar at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, one week after opening, the joint was jumping, with no vacant seats immediately visible. The adjacent dining room was equally crowded, and the buzz of many conversations filled the air.

“This is the quiet side, for people who don’t want to be in the bar,” said Joey D’s owner Joseph DiPascale, although clearly the term was relative. The kitchen and separate pizza prep areas were also a hive of activity, but the operation seemed to be running smoothly.

“We’re overstaffed for the beginning,” said DiPascale, who estimated his Marco Island staff at 30 to 35, with “a lot of part-timers.” Some of the longtime staffers, such as “pizza man” Joseph “Joey G” Gerbasio and executive chef Alex Jimenez, came from other locations to help with the opening.

Executive chef Alex Jimenez is a study in perpetual motion. Joey D's Italian Restaurant & Bar on Bald Eagle Drive has drawn crowds since opening on July 17.

The restaurant, in the space on Bald Eagle Drive formerly occupied by Porky’s and, most recently, Seven-O-One Bistro & Lounge, has 7,800 square feet and 200 seats. “I made the kitchen a little bigger. We make everything to order, so we need a huge prep area,” said DiPascale.

Originally, Joey D’s was slotted for the Town Center Mall, in the old Vandy’s location.

“We signed a lease, but they ended up not being able to fulfill it,” said DiPascale. “They couldn’t give us parking.” He didn’t have a figure for what it cost to remodel the space and open the restaurant, one of four Joey D’s locations in Collier County.

“We had a budget, but we exceeded it. I just spent $15,000 on sports memorabilia – I’m a Phillies fan,” he said. Ownership of the restaurants is closely held; DiPascale opened his first location on Immokalee Road just out of college, 19 years ago.

Joey D's Italian Restaurant & Bar on Bald Eagle Drive has drawn crowds since opening on July 17.

“I tore up my knee playing college football, and came back home.” He used to live with his family on Marco Island, and his mother still lives here. Why open a restaurant here, and why now?

“I just like the captive audience. People come here, and they stay here. They don’t have to leave the island. There’s nothing like this on Marco,” said DiPascale. “We’re a neighborhood Italian restaurant with a nice upscale sports bar.”

Business took off and never really slowed down at his other locations, so he hopes for the same result on Marco Island, he said.

“Even when we had the recession, we didn’t really feel it. We’re a family-style restaurant, so this is the first place people will go” when they want to dine out. “Everything’s made to order. I’m hands-on – I cook if I have to, but they’re all my recipes.”

An order of flatbread with steak. Joey D's Italian Restaurant & Bar on Bald Eagle Drive has drawn crowds since opening on July 17.
A Joey D's special pizza. Joey D's Italian Restaurant & Bar on Bald Eagle Drive has drawn crowds since opening on July 17.

He also helped out serving dishes, tracking down orders, and acting as a sort of traffic manager, keeping things running smoothly.

Favorite dishes, said DiPascale, include lasagna, any of the pastas with the restaurant’s meaty signature Bolognese sauce, and a lot of pizza. The menu features extensive traditional favorites and comfort food, from chicken or veal picatta, Francaise, Marsala, or cacciatore, to a choice of eight salads, calamari, six varieties of chicken wings, or mussels marinara.

Diners were sampling everything on the menu, plus taking advantage of happy hour pricing on house wine, well drinks, and bottled or draft beer, including 20 beers on tap including local offerings such as Riptide Brewery’s Paddlepuss.

The general consensus in the dining room and barroom was a big thumbs up, from Susan Kubel’s grouper fingers to Luisa Magdelener’s flatbread with steak. Sam Miloro said he had visited “a couple or three times last week,” and was back. Elliot and Janice Cyr came for the first time at lunch Tuesday, and were back for dinner that evening.

Time will tell whether Joey D’s becomes a part of the fabric of the community, as some eateries have. But with a big off-season opening, here’s a new player on the Marco Island restaurant scene.

If you go

Joey D’s Italian Restaurant & Bar

701 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island


Off-season hours: 11 a.m. to close, Tues. – Sun.