Punta Gorda, Florida – April 5, 2017 - Chris Evans, co-owner of The Turtle Club Coastal Tavern and Claw Bar, summed up what went into a restaurant deal that will change the face of Marion Avenue: “Like anything else in life--time and opportunity.”
It took both to bring about the purchase of eight-year-old Jack’s on Marion, owned by Bill and Janet Minerich in downtown Punta Gorda’s Sunloft Center since 2012.
Said Evans, “For a retired airline pilot who’d never been in the restaurant business before, Bill Minerich has done a fantastic job with Jack’s. We’ve been friends for years, and I’ve been floating balloons to him for a year and a half.
“I’d also been trying to hire Chef Keith Meyer for a year. He loved what he was doing at Trabue, and they were building a great, strong business there. When Trabue was sold this January, I re-approached both of them.”
Meyer and Evans will partner in Jack’s, with Meyer focusing on the culinary excellence for which he’s recognized, while Evans applies the operational processes and systems that he’s honed in his other restaurant ventures, at Punta Gorda’s Turtle Club and The Glass Tavern in Schenectady.
“I think we’re going to make a dynamic team,” said Meyer.
Trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York, with former sous-chef positions at two Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurants, Meyer will bring expertise in French cooking technique to a kitchen three times Trabue’s size and a restaurant of 260 seats.
Explained Meyer, “The menu will obviously be broader, but keep Jack’s most popular items. I want to keep everything super fresh, seasonal, and scratch made, taking advantage of the many resources we have locally, such as Three Suns Ranch for my bison meatloaf.”
Meyer expects to continue his practice of visiting the dining room to share in customers’ satisfaction. And Meyer’s wife, NBC-2 News anchor Stacey Deffenbaugh Meyer, will continue to work with her husband in a hospitality role at the new restaurant.
Said Meyer, “Even though most people are from somewhere else, everybody in Punta Gorda comes together to make this town a great place to live. Being involved directly with guests has always been enormously satisfying for Stacey and me.”
Aware of the market and price points in Charlotte County and Punta Gorda, Meyer and Evans don’t plan on fine dining. There will be casual choices, a bar menu, small plates, fine dishes and plates for sharing.
“For us,” said Evans, “every restaurant has several keys to success: management, quality, capital, location and, of course, concept.
“Our concept is historical. Everybody who comes this community loves the history, the harbor, the story of Punta Gorda. We want to create a space dedicated to telling that story, where you can come with your whole family & friends, enjoy delectable food, and see the history of Punta Gorda.”
“My grandfather, F. M. ‘Don’ Donelson, was part of that history. He developed Fishermen’s Village and Emerald Pointe in the 1970s, started The Royal Order of Ponce de Leon Conquistadors in 1979, and worked to establish one of the first Charlotte Harbor Fishing Tournaments for kids. Working with Gene Murtha of the Punta Gorda Historical Society, we want to showcase my grandfather’s historic photographs and other historical pieces in the restaurant.”
In his honor, the new restaurant’s name will be F.M. Don’s.
“This will not be The Turtle Club or The Glass Tavern or Trabue,” said Evans. “We don’t need more brick and earth tones. But we do want to frame up some walls and install floating acoustic ceilings to contain live music in the bar area and keep the dining area quieter. With Jack’s energy already centered around that bar corner, we want to bring in more live entertainment.”
“We want to keep people happy who’ve been coming to Jack’s for years, while injecting unique energy into this growing town,” said Meyer.
The changeover will begin in May, but the transition will be slow and seamless over the following six to eight months, retaining the Jack’s team and keeping everything they need to remain successful. To come in the future: a catering division and a large banquet space, for meetings of 50 or more, in Sunloft Center’s Suite 211 behind Jack’s.
“The energy in Punta Gorda is unique, passionate, and lifestyle oriented. We want to build on that energy. When you combine all the efforts of this community, you are marketing this community. Selling more homes, bringing more businesses, and adding to the fabulous way of life that Charlotte County offers,” said Evans.