In the Know: Construction begins on new Popeyes; a sneaky, happily boring grocery debut; what's with the 'madness?'

Phil Fernandez
Naples Daily News

One of the things you learn as an In the Know columnist is, "Don't count your chicken chains before they hatch."

And I've been trying to nudge the planned developers from the "Muck City" burg of Belle Glade out of their shell to get "the scoop," as Naples resident Paul Kastner called it, surrounding the following question that many of you have had.

Like reader Carol Delson: "Is Popeyes chicken still going to be in Bonita Springs as announced?"

Or Bill Hopmann: "What about (the) Popeyes fried chicken for Bonita Springs?"

More:Popeyes at a glance: How did it get its name?

And:Update: Long lines but the love continues at the new Popeyes

Previously:In the Know: Sad news on a new Popeyes, home sales update and signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Plus:In the Know: Aldi set to open in Bonita; another Collier location with adjacent Chick-Fil-A in the works

Turning it around:In the Know: Pandemic or not, new stores, grocery filling Bonita Springs vacancies; and say it ain't so, Pei Wei

Fortunately, there are public records and all-star In the Know fans, like Jeff Kakley, who's been keeping an eye on 28186 S. Tamiami Trail and staying in touch with his observations.

"It’s quite a mystery considering all the hoopla about chicken sandwiches," Kakley said of the wait for a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen to set up shop there near the Bonita Beach Road intersection. "I go to the gym across 41 from the long-proposed site."

Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. You work out, and you consume Popeyes? Is that even allowed?

In the Know: Construction has begun on a new Popeyes, shown in yellow, on U.S. 41, south of Bonita Beach Road.

Kakley chuckled, and then shared something that deserves a greasy pat on the back after you put down that drumstick.

"I’m 85 and go to the gym most days," he said. "I’m Italian and eat moderate portions of everything."

Must be a pain, reward kind of thing. Or is that risk, reward? Anyway, I usually skip ahead to the reward, and make it spicy please.

For Bonita, North Naples, Estero and other residents, it looks like your reward may tentatively come by January, based on city documents, but that could change. So hopefully you'll be able to gobble up your Popeyes first, and then make that delayed New Year's resolution.

In the Know: A Popeyes has begun rising about 300 feet from a KFC on Tamiami Trail, just south of Bonita Beach Road. Image taken Aug. 9, 2021.

Imagine: 90,000 cars outside Popeyes

A brand new permit is in place for the 3,476 square feet of poultry glory, and workers were on the premises this week with the start of the remodel of the former Citibank and Burger King structure built 35 years ago.

This could mean only a few more months of a half-hour drive or so to the Naples Popeyes celebrating its two-year anniversary, or you can saunter to the KFC 300 feet south from its competitor's future home.

The proximity to other fast food, such as the Wendy's just to its north, has been among the hurdles in getting this bird off the ground for as long as four years. Normally, such establishments couldn't be within 500 feet of each other locally, so special permission was needed.

In the Know: A Popeyes has begun rising about 300 feet from a KFC on Tamiami Trail, just south of Bonita Beach Road. Image taken Aug. 9, 2021.

Like many of us, Eric Royal discovered the locale to be a sizzling spot for development. He's vice president of real estate for Royal Family Businesses that's behind this project.

"We like that the site is in a high density location with great traffic counts," Royal told me when we last touched base.

Traffic. You got it. I can tell you exactly how many vehicles were cruising Bonita Beach Road, just east of Tamiami Trail, on July 30, thanks to dandy government data.

That total: 32,662, well above the 2020 daily average of 24,700 for that segment, based on Lee County tabulations.

And we're still nowhere close yet to the winter snowbird arrival and peak volume, considering the heat. The Weather Underground station in the Spanish Wells community adjacent to that stretch recorded 98 degrees on Thursday. Indeed, this is only summer traffic, folks.

In the Know: A Popeyes has begun rising about 300 feet from a KFC on Tamiami Trail, just south of Bonita Beach Road. Image taken Aug. 9, 2021.

By the way, that's not the busiest part of the intersection.

It's the northern side, on Tamiami Trail, where the average last year was 41,500, but no recent tally has been conducted. (Quick aside: Lee's most congested U.S. 41 spot is near College Parkway and Collier's is outside the government administration building off Airport-Pulling Road.) 

But extrapolating how far above the norm for that other section, you could figure on close to 55,000. Add it all together, and you start to get within reach of 90,000 converging at that intersection on July 30.

So yeah, did Royal say it was busy? Stay tuned for January.

Census stats show 91,000 residents within five miles of his 1.2 acres. That's seemingly equal to the number of Naples Popeyes customers jammed in line for the 11899 Collier Blvd. launch on Aug. 19, 2019. Depending on whom you are, it's a day that ranks right up there with the unveiling of Tamiami Trail almost a century ago or maybe Billy Carter's 1977 local visit.

Royal's companies operate 10 Popeyes including Lehigh Acres and Immokalee, which long had held the crown as Collier's only. The Naples stop came together under the leadership of the more formidable Sun Holdings, one of the largest franchisees in the nation.

Aldi, happily boring and sneaky

Across from the emerging Royal building is the new Aldi that opened this past week in Springs Plaza, which is going through a rebirth of sorts and part of the hot growth referred to earlier in the column.

The center had dropped off the shopping map with Winn-Dixie there and the subsequent departure, but it's made a remarkable turnaround in two years, capped off by Aldi.

Newest signees include Massage Point expanding to its second outpost after an Estero debut four years ago, and Premier Martial Arts, which is in 32 states and Naples, too. A check in the leasing office finds only a 4,000-square-foot slot remaining.

Aldi officially called Thursday its first day, but those sneaks did one of those soft openings the day before. It was practice, practice, practice for the 18 or so employees an Aldi VP told me Wednesday that he hired.

"Each store, including our Bonita Springs store, employs about 15 to 20 people," said Chris Hewitt, Royal Palm Beach division vice president, who really couldn't offer how this setting might be different than any other, and he likes it that way. 

“A typical store, including the Bonita Springs store, is approximately 12,000 square feet of retail space and is much easier to navigate than traditional grocery stores," Hewitt said. "The consistent size of ALDI stores across the country is a part of our formula for success. Every ALDI has a similar, easy-to-navigate layout."

It's about streamlining for the German-based chain, "creating cost-saving efficiencies that are passed onto our customers," he said.

Future for Naples and Cape Coral

Hewitt also provided slightly more insight on Southwest Florida's next two markets: Naples's Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard, and Cape Coral’s Santa Barbara Boulevard and Veterans Parkway

"Both (will) be opening by the end of this year," he said.

And guess what? Yeah, it's boring.

"These stores will both have approximately 12,000 square feet of retail space," Hewitt said.

But as you've shared, you dig the kind of effectiveness that goes with boring and being a bit robotic.

"Their cashiers are trained," said Thorsten Gniatkowski, and "just a bit different."

They're "just down to business," said Keith Schneider. "I chat with the cashiers while scanning the merchandise. But the order only takes about two minutes from start to finish."

Self-described "faithful reader" Dena Farina told me Monday she had planned to wait just long enough for the newbies to smooth out their processes before heading over.

"I still need groceries so it's either Publix with their high prices, but I love their BOGOs," Farina said of those beloved by many Buy One Get One free deals, "or Walmart with their lack (of) inventory at times."

So I did try to see if Hewitt would talk about venues in the works, or maybe he'd share whether Florida would wind up with the most Aldis, passing the 200-plus of Illinois, home of its U.S. headquarters.

"We currently operate 174 stores in Florida alone, with more to come," he said, not wanting to give up the goods but at least mentioning the addition of a "new fulfilment center" at the center of the growth ahead.

While that fulfilment name sounds like the kind of place where folks gather in a circle and chant almighty Aldi praise to a sack of potatoes or something, it's what used to be called a distribution center until Amazon and others came along.

In the Know: Outside the Naples Clive Daniel Home showroom on U.S. 41 in August 2021.

Slipping supplies: 'Madness'

Had a chance Thursday to catch up with one of my favorite top dogs in Collier County, and he had me in stitches, well, briefly.

I was wanting to check in on the latest for Naples-based Clive Daniel Home's expansion to Sarasota that I first reported at the beginning of the year and also, just what in the world is going on with this supply line that keeps slip, slip, "Slipping Away"? Someone please cue that delightful Dave Edmunds ditty of 1983.

"I have a few thoughts on the madness that is our industry,"  CEO Daniel Lubner said. "The supply chain has been rocked, at every imaginable level."

I knew Lubner would be the best guy for candidness. None of this public relations, slapping lipstick on a pig stuff, as politicians and one of my former high school football coaches are prone to say.

When Lubner and I spoke in January, optimistic industry leaders were telling me that perhaps within six months, the supply line would begin straightening itself and begin overcoming the many challenges, – tariffs and pandemic included.

"It has gotten remarkably worse. Some suppliers are over a year out," said Lubner, who also has a showroom in Boca Raton. "In February, (the) major foam suppliers were significantly impacted by the snowstorm in Dallas. The negative impacts have caused as many delays as the global shutdown."

The storm shut down the five U.S. plants – four in Texas and one in Louisiana – that produce the main chemical, called propylene oxide, needed to make foam, and this led to various other obstacles.

Daniel Lubner, CEO, poses for a portrait at Clive Daniel Home in Naples on Wednesday, January 27, 2021.

Now, I do cackle a little at Lubner's fun take on life in general as I went back through his comments, but he and I know it's serious stuff. Working with my colleagues, look for more on this business-to-consumer calamity in an upcoming edition.

It's just that Lubner has positioned his company where he wants it to be, and consider that he's expanding in the middle of this mess. 

How do you spell confidence? L-U-B-N-E-R.

More:Pandemic-driven furniture demand brings record sales, 'decimated' supply chain, long waits

Snowstorm impact:Where's my sofa? A foam shortage is leading to delays and higher prices on furniture, RVs, more

And:In the Know: Growing number of Cannabis options on Bonita 'Buzz' Road; more Jersey Mike's coming

One year anniversary:In the Know: 7 more local chain store closings including 1965 original. One place poised for comeback

Late June 2021 early stages of construction for Naples-based Clive Daniels Home showroom at bustling Fruitville Road and I-75 exit in Sarasota in front of also-rising housing.

Next investment: Italy or Mars?

He invested big time to stay ahead and pushed forward on a 65,000-square-foot showroom at the bustling I-75 exit on Fruitville Road in Sarasota. You can't miss it coming from Naples. You'll be looking right at it in front of you as you roll onto the interstate off-ramp.

"We should be open just after the first of the year," Lubner said. "Currently, the ground, building and inventory will exceed $17.5 million. We will have 50 full-time positions."

He certainly doesn't come across as worried about the future of furniture.

"We took extra warehouse space to allow for several million dollars of additional inventory," Lubner said. "We have remained in stock on the majority of our goods. We are one of the few retailers that are currently in stock. We have key domestic suppliers that have kept the goods flowing on a consistent basis."

In the Know: Rendering of Naples-based Clive Daniel Home showroom rising in Sarasota as part of its expansion.

The result?

"Last year was a strong year for us. This year will be even stronger," Lubner said. "Larger design projects remain our core focus, but we are also enjoying our unique position of having a significant amount of inventory in stock. It’s the best of both worlds."

Best of both worlds, eh? So what's in Lubner's crystal ball for his company?

"I’m keeping an eye on my fellow South African innovator, Elon Musk," he said. "As soon as he colonizes Mars, I’ll open a showroom there."

I don't know, man. Italy would be as far as I'd want to go. Give me Amalfi again, but somehow with an elevator or a jetpack to avoid going up and down all those sometimes steep stone stairs. Maybe Musk can help.

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (pfernandez@gannett.com) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.