In the Know: St. Matthew's opening its own restaurant, Costco chicken returns, and Wawa, Taco Bell, McRib, Oakes recaps
No challenge has been too big, no idea too unorthodox for St. Matthew's House, so why not?
A significant Collier County force helping the hungry and the homeless, St. Matthew's is planning to announce today the start of construction of its own restaurant that will serve the public.
The $3 million-plus Lulu’s Kitchen will be a substantial addition to the group's unique social enterprise portfolio that includes five thrift stores, a car wash and detailing center, and catering operation.
If the not-for-profit's leaders feel it will make a difference, raise money to assist others and create opportunities for those needing help in the community, St. Matthew's will try it. Considering Matthew is the patron saint of accountants, St. Matthew's knows a little bit about budgeting as it does not solicit government funding.
“Our social enterprises generate nearly 70 percent of the funds needed for St. Matthew’s House operations so that 100 percent of every donation goes directly to support our life transforming programs and services,” said St. Matthew’s President and CEO Vann Ellison. “Lulu’s Kitchen is a dream realized."
Lulu’s will consist of a free-standing 8,000-square-foot commercial kitchen, bringing under one roof catering operations, a new culinary training institute, café and open-to-the-public restaurant. A summer 2020 completion is anticipated for the operation, which was made possible by a major gift from longtime St. Matthew’s House supporters, The Holecek Family Trust.
The trust has been quietly benefiting St. Matthews and others in the community including St. John Neumann High, where the late Justin Holecek had graduated. Restaurateur Jeri Holecek, who has been one of the trustees, has said Lulu is a nickname family members have used for her.
"This generous gift is the answer to our prayers,” Ellison said. “This new facility brings together our food services and catering operations and expands our capacity to serve those in need. In addition, it allows us to introduce a formal culinary training institute to accelerate our existing culinary training program."
That program provides job training to prepare residents to "to secure meaningful work so that they can lead fulfilling and productive lives," Ellison said. "More than 220 St. Matthew’s House program graduates have completed our culinary training program and taken positions in the Southwest Florida hospitality and food services industry.”
The 65-seat Lulu’s will serve breakfast and lunch on the St. Matthew’s campus at 2071 Airport-Pulling Road South, said Peter Johnson, vice president of development at St. Matthew’s. Ted Sottong of Liberating Vision Design LLC is project architect. The contractor is Connor & Gaskins Unlimited LLC.
It's not known yet how many will work at Lulu's, but the specialty will be American cuisine, Johnson said.
"We will have a broad culinary program, so the menu will broader than just diner fare," Johnson said.
The kitchen is one of five major projects included in the St. Matthew’s House Life Transformation Campaign. The campaign is raising funds to renovate existing facilities and to add new ones to expand and enhance the organization’s capacity to provide life transforming services to the homeless, those struggling with food insecurity, and individuals seeking addiction recovery.
St. Matthew’s House provides more than 500,000 meals each year for its residents and those in the community who are suffering from chronic hunger. More than 300 stay every night in St. Matthew’s housing facilities in Collier County, Johnson said.
Its history is fascinating. It began in the late 1980s after members of a Bible study group read a Naples Daily News article about homeless living in the woods. They had just discussed the book of Matthew in the Bible, where Jesus explains to his disciples about how taking care of the needy is as important, if not more so than taking care of Him.
That inspired them to go into the woods and provide soup, and the momentum hasn't slowed since.
Costco chicken comeback
Plenty of buzz after last week's In the Know about customers missing their $4.99 rotisserie chicken while expansion continues of food areas and other sections at the Naples Costco. Did you know this voguish chicken has its own Facebook page with more than 16,000 followers, of which 15,999 live in Naples?
“I would see dozens disappear off the shelves of the Naples Costco even if I stopped in for half a minute,” said Matthew Smith, a former local WGCU producer who has a similar role for Vermont Public Radio. “The power of the Costco $5 roast chicken is real, and it is mighty.”
With apologies to Elton John: Well, the bird, well, the bird, well the bird is back, and stone cold sober readers, as a matter of fact, are joyfully squawking.
"Yay!" Mary M. Stratton said on the Naples Daily News Facebook page. "The chickens are back."
In case you missed it, here are a few of our digital In the Know highlights from last week's naplesnews.com, including some feedback from readers:
The Wawa 200
Wawa launched its 200th Florida store last week with a bit of pageantry at Price Street and U.S. 41 in East Naples.
The Lely High School band was there. A sandwich-making competition between police and firefighters ensued. And the company's CEO Chris Gheysens and mascot Wawa Wally Goose came down from Philadelphia.
Yes, this was Wawa all right:
► It debuted the $2 Wawa Florida Sunrise beverage, which for the rest of the month, will raise money for the Feeding Florida food bank network that includes the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida.
► In addition, the Wawa Foundation awarded three $25,000 grants to Florida entities – one to each of its focus areas of health, hunger and "everyday heroes" including Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals state affiliates; USO Chapters in Florida and Feeding Florida food bank network. Wawa also threw in an impromptu $1,000 check Lely's way.
► In honor of store No. 200, it set a $2 a gallon price at the location that lasted into the weekend, almost two quarters less than anywhere else in the region. As we reported on Twitter in a follow-up, competitor Racetrac then matched the price at its two closest locations to the newest Wawa.
Readers expressed delight about Wawa's second coming after opening its first location about two years ago, providing more than 350 likes, loves, shares and comments on the Naples Daily News Facebook page.
So we kinda gave Gheysens, the Wawa CEO and Philly boy, a hard time about why he hasn't invested in a Collier home yet like many of his colleagues. Here's the video:
For whom the Taco Bell tolls
The overcooked Taco Bell building on Davis Boulevard, just off Collier Boulevard and I-75, reopened last week.
On a particularly electric late night and morning about eight weeks ago, lighting rung the Bell, sparking a blaze that burned through the roof. The Greater Naples Fire Rescue District handled four such flare-ups in the region Aug. 24-25, but fortunately no reported injuries.
"It has been busy," said Jose Flores, a manager, who shared that he was greeted with enthusiastic customers after the opening.
This is good news for those seeking a Gordita for their fourth meal. Now if you're looking for a Gordito, that would be me, but that's neither here nor there. Answering the commands of the haunting little chihuahua voices in their heads, customers in that area have had to drive an additional seven miles to the Bell on East Trail.
One way, that's 15 minutes of lost time, or equal to what it takes for competitive eater Joey Chestnut to devour 53 soft beef tacos. (Actually, he did that in 10 minutes in 2011.)
Sorry to report that, so far, it does not appear that the limited-run McRib has made it to Southwest Florida's McDonalds. Or maybe that's a good thing.
Checking with McDonalds again Tuesday after a reader had inquired, its nearest location was close to 100 miles from Naples in the Englewood area, but call ahead if you don't want to end your journey with a buzzkill. Actually, that could happen whether you consume a McRib or not.
The iconic barbecue sandwich, which launched in 1981 and returns after a year hiatus, is set for about 70 percent of the nation's McDonalds.
Immokalee Road and I-75: Oakes and Ross
► Ross Dress for Less opened recently in Tarpon Bay Plaza at the southeast corner of Immokalee Road and I-75. With the debut at the shopping center, which has featured a Super Target since 2007, this makes 184 Ross locations in Florida and 1,547 spots nationally.
Southwest Florida features eight stores including three in Naples, three in Fort Myers and one each in Bonita Springs and Cape Coral. The North Naples venue is 19,500 square feet.
► About a mile west from Ross on Immokalee Road, Oakes Farms' new Seed to Table is seeking "the warmest, brightest and most loving employees on earth" at this week's job fair, said owner Alfie Oakes.
So if you have those attributes plus can at least work a broom, you may have a shot at the up to 500 positions the company is filling ahead of its opening within the next six weeks or so.
The opportunities are all over the place beyond the mozzarella stretching mentioned in a previous column: Working with sushi, pastries, pizza, candy, meat, booze and, oh yeah, kids.
Titled as a member of the "Childhood Education Staff," you'll be assigned to the play area helping to watch the little rascals while moms and dads focus on their own adult version of Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with more than just sweets.
Oakes folks have said they plan to have a guarded and attended area for children. The idea has been for parents to be given matching wrist bands that match with the child's. Not sure they'd like it if you traded your bands with some other parents in case that's what you were thinking.
After two previous weekends of job fairs, a third series has been added: Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Seed To Table, 4835 Immokalee Road, just off Livingston Road near I-75.
Old Naples energy
Construction began last week of Eight Fifty Central, a planned mixed-use commercial development with a 22-home community at Central Avenue and Eighth Street South, a block off U.S. 41.
Those involved in the three-story structure on less than an acre of land include Platinum Developments, the Dawn McKenna Group, MHK Architecture and Planning and Connor & Gaskins Unlimited.
“I'm extremely excited for this new project in Old Naples," said Chip Youmans, president of the 15-year-old Platinum. "I've assembled an amazing talented group of local professionals to build and design Eight Fifty Central. It's a small boutique building that's west of 41 and is only seven blocks from the beach and highly accessible to shops, entertainment and all that Naples has to offer.”
Completion of construction, which includes 10,000 square feet of office and retail space, is expected before the arrival of snowbirds in a year or so.
"It will be 12 months from now. So if all goes according to plan, we are hoping by end of 2020," said Youmans, a MIchigan State University graduate familiar with the Northern winter invasion. "We have eight of the units already sold to residents."
Floor plans consist of two- and three-bedroom condos with square footage ranging from 1,357 to 1,663 plus additional lanai space and 11-foot ceilings, according to a listing by McKenna, which is affiliated with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. The common areas feature a pool, cabanas and roof terrace with a fire pit.
The Zillow listing shows a two-bedroom, two-bath that's 1,209 square feet selling for $849,000. It was originally listed at $950,000 in November 2018. Other larger units are selling for about $1.1 million to $1.35 million.
Youmans' $25 million-plus project replaces a multi-story office complex and a parking lot that housed a medical practice for almost a half-century.
"We have one office user committed to the commercial space," said Youmans, who has spearheaded work in Southwest Florida and southeast Michigan. "We are in discussion with several others."
It's about an eight-minute walk to Fifth Avenue South, and it's even closer, six minutes on foot, to another new business, which has opened in that area.
With a history in Naples retail, Jennifer Holderman this month launched Happily Ever After Consignment Boutique, 991 Second Ave. N., specializing in products for men and children.
The Florida Gulf Coast University graduate and former Massachusetts resident said her focus on male clothing sets her shop apart from other similar operations, and she has larger sizes.
"My passion is finding a diamond in the dirt to clean — and making a ring out of it," Holderman said.
Opening at 10 a.m. Monday through Saturdays, she closes at 5 p.m. every day except Wednesday, when she goes to 7 p.m.
Elaine Nelson gets the last word today regarding a question addressed in a previous In the Know about whether Naples is the next Miami and a subsequent column about Costco's rotisserie chicken:
"I think it is safe to say that Naples will never be the next Miami as long as the lead stories in the NDN are about Costco Rotisserie Chicken," Nelson said in an email to In the Know. "That's a good thing!"
Columnist Phil Fernandez writes In the Know for the Naples Daily News. Contact him with ideas, tips or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and hometown unless you're the surreptitious type or in the witness protection program.