Capri Connection: Island Gypsy Café and Marina Bar celebrates birthday

Ann Hall

On Wednesday, Oct. 19, this note was posted on the Coconuttele, Isles of Capri’s informal voluntary email communication network:

“Hello Ann, It’s hard to believe but tomorrow, Thursday Oct. 20, marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of The Island Gypsy Café and Marina Bar. Imagine that! We are humble and so very grateful for the last five years being part of this community. I personally, along with all the staff, want to thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for the support we have received in becoming part of this great community. We look forward to another year and welcome the opportunity to continue to serve you. Thank you all so very, very much! Jerry Alajajian (owner) and one happy, grateful and proud American.”

“The Gypsy,” as it is called by those who frequent the small outdoor waterfront dockside café on Tarpon Bay, has become an icon in the area.  Folks from Naples, Goodland, Everglade City, Marco Island and Capri refer to the Gypsy as “one of our favorites” when asked how they feel about it.

As evidenced by the parking lot out front and the boats moored at the docks out back, it must be true.  There is hardly ever a time when there is not a group gathered under the tin-roofed tiki or under one of the colorful umbrellas out on the deck having a cold beverage from what is called on the menu – “Tropical Impairments” and munching or dining on one or more of their favorites from the island-style menu.  The Café also has a full liquor license.

The relaxed laid back and friendly atmosphere, food and entertainment are not all that make this quaint waterfront establishment charming. It is not even the beautiful sunsets or coastal breezes that guests ooh and ah over. It is more than that by far. There is air of caring for the customers that permeates from Jerry Alajajian, the owner down through each of his hard-working staff members. Whenever the community has a need or a project, Alajajian is always one of the first to step up to the plate and offer support to the community, and he does it in a quiet way. During the annual Christmas Boat Parade, boat captains and their crews have been treated to fresh pizza prior to setting sail from behind the café.   When the community has a project or an event, Alajajian always donates or helps with the cause.

Jerry Alajajian on the day of the grand opening of his Island Gypsy Café and Marina Bar five years ago.
Nick Alajajian (owner’s youngest son) and Joanie Furlong (server) are busy welcoming guests who came to pay tribute to the Island Gypsy Café and Marina Bar celebrating its fifth birthday on the Isles of Capri.
Locals, guests and visitors from near and far claim that the Island Gypsy Café and Marina Bar is one of their favorite local outdoor eateries anywhere in Southwest Florida.

“He is one of us!” say so many residents.

It all began when Jerry Alajajian, formerly of Handsome Harry’s 3rd Street Bistro in Naples, was having breakfast with his friend Dayle Westover at what was formerly the Capri Café, owned by Fran and Jack Schloss.  The Schloss’ indicated to Alajajian that they were interested in selling their business and moving on. An offer was made and accepted.

“It was divine guidance that brought me to Capri,” said Alajajian.  “When I learned that the business was for sale, I knew it was just what I had been looking for.”

Alajajian had been in the restaurant business for 40 years and in the Naples area for the past 23 years.  He opened Handsome Harry’s 3rd Street Bistro and named it after his dad, Harry, who passed away when he was a young man. Alajajian left Handsome Harry’s in February, 2011 to pursue other ventures.  He opened nine Tommy Bahama restaurants across the Country from Maui in Hawaii to West Palm Beach in Florida. He was known there as ‘The island guy,’ and his business card read ‘The vision keeper.’

Schloss had salvaged the bow of an old sailing vessel called the Island Gypsy before he sold his restaurant to Alajajian.  He had plans to turn it into a bar for his outdoor café. Alajajian completed that dream and made that the name of his new business.

“I want to make this new business unique and to focus on local hospitality,” Alajajian announced to the community through the Coconuttele.  “I am big on history and plan to decorate the café with memorabilia and photos of the Isles of Capri,” said Alajajian. “I will offer a good quality fish and chips, homemade pizza, great burgers, traditional American entrées, nice salads, and of course a variation of the famous lobster salad, a favorite at Handsome Harry’s 3rd Street Bistro in Naples.

“I may combine lunch and dinner menus to run all day.”

The rest of his menu was to be developed with input from his customers. Alajajian also worked closely with the Isles of Capri Marina Rentals and Charters, as well as other island businesses. Charitable and fun events were also part of his plans.

Alajajian’s three sons, Steve, Joe and Nick also work in his business. “I am a practical guy, and I wanted to add the details to my café and marina bar that will make a difference.  I want to be known for hospitality, service, cleanliness, good food, fun, and a staff with lots of energy,” said Alajajian.  “I want to treat my customers as if I were the one walking in the door,” he said.  “I am not a non-profit organization, but I want to offer plenty of good food with a good presentation without gouging people,” said Alajajian. If asked if these goals were met, those who know him would say, “Yes, and beyond!”

The Island Gypsy Café and Marina Bar, located at 292 Capri Boulevard, Isles of Capri is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. with happy hour from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. The menu consists of a popular array of appetizers, entrees and salads. A favorite are the hand-cut, hand-battered fresh daily onion rings that are “the best on the planet,” said DeLayne Chowen a visitor from Richmond Virginia.  A Friday night special is Prime Rib.  There are also specialty home-made cakes and pies whose servings and tastes are unequalled.

You haven’t lived until you experience one of Capri’s infamous unannounced thunderstorms while relaxing at the Gypsy.  Patrons run for cover under the tiki like a Chinese fire drill. The service staff scurries around to accommodate the customers while waiting for the storm to pass. Often a double rainbow appears, the sun comes out, and the staff works in concert like a fine tuned machine to dry out the eating areas, keeping customers happy all the while.  Even when all tables are full, the staff seems to find a way to make room for one more. This was the scene for Gypsy’s Fifth.

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