Tim Aten Knows: 60 restaurants launch in Bonita, Estero, Lee in 2022 – – Gulfshore Business
At least 60 new dining spots opened for business in 2022 in Lee County, including more than two dozen in Bonita Springs and Estero.
Bonita truly was a hot spot this calendar year with the launch of many notable dining destinations in the city. The owners of the nearby Downtown Coffee and Wine Co. upped their game with the introduction of The Bohemian Restaurant, which led the way in the first quarter of 2022 with its March opening in the new Entrada business center on the corner of Old 41 and Bonita Beach roads. Entrada also saw the February openings of the Rabbit Hole Kava Bar and Lee County’s first location of Naples-based Napoli on the Bay Pizza.
Vichino’s Cafe & Wine Bar got off to an early start when it opened in mid-January in the Bonita Commons retail center on U.S. 41. It was followed by a trifecta of fresh dining spots that drew more attention to Bonita’s culinary offerings when they opened last summer.
MareTerra Ristorante and Malinche Mexican Restaurant launched on the same day in late June. MareTerra opened in the former Trail Boulevard space of Palladio Trattoria, while Malinche moved into the former Metro Diner unit in The Center of Bonita Springs. The chef-driven Corner Spot Diner + Drink opened in July in the former Sharky’s Pizza place off Bonita Beach Road.
In November, Aqua restaurant and lounge and Kim-Chi Grill opened near the intersection of U.S. 41 and Bonita Beach Road. Naples-based Aqua replaced the longtime Perkins eatery and Kim-Chi located near Petar’s across the street.
A couple of fast-casual chains opened off U.S. 41 in Bonita this year. The long-awaited Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen brought its popular chicken to town last spring while a second franchise of Jersey Mike’s Subs launched in Bonita this fall.
Two more new venues to wet one’s whistle include Nectar Lab coffee and kava bar, which replaced Hello Coffee in the Shoppes at Audubon on U.S. 41; and Devil’s Isle Distillery, which opened this summer near Hopsized Brewing Co. off Old 41.
At Coconut Point, the owners of South Fork Grille opened the adjacent El Nido modern Mexican restaurant in early July. Fibrre, a plant-based casual eatery, also opened last summer at the regional mall off U.S. 41 in Estero. The outdoor shopping center saw the January launch of Juice Society’s cold-pressed organic juicery in a kiosk near the recently shuttered Regal cinema; and Nautical Bowls opened its first regional location in the former Duck Donuts unit at Coconut Point. Naples Gourmet Ice Cream opened near the cinema on Jan. 2 but permanently closed a few weeks ago.
In Miromar Outlets off Corkscrew Road, Modo’s Grille brought classic diner fare in early January to the outlet mall’s food court area. Caffè da Michele Osteria Italiana and Luigi’s Pizza é Pasta started serving authentic Italian favorites last summer and fall, respectively. Kava Culture Kava Bar opened its latest regional location last month at the open-air mall.
Elsewhere in Estero, the former Beef ‘O’ Brady’s franchise in The Shoppes of Grande Oak became The Pickled Onion Restaurant & Pub at the beginning of the year but it changed ownership Sept. 1 and is now Mario’s, a local restaurant serving an extensive menu of American, Greek and Mexican favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In July, the local owners of El Gaucho Inca restaurants spun off El Gaucho Deli Café for Argentinean and Peruvian breakfast cuisine near their Estero restaurant across from Coconut Point. Pastry Boutique opened in September, taking over the former space of Restoratives Cafe, which closed last December on U.S. 41.
Two fast-growing restaurant chains introduced locations in Estero this year. Clean Juice opened its first Lee County location in May at The Shoppes at University Highlands near Miromar Outlets off Ben Hill Griffin Parkway and Chicken Salad Chick launched this month in Estero Town Commons off Corkscrew Road.
After the pandemic, supply chain issues, staffing problems and Hurricane Ian, it was a tough year for restaurants. Little Nicky’s New York Pizza, Deli & Pastry was one that didn’t survive. The business opened Jan. 3 in the south Fort Myers area but had closed by the end of the year.
Barbecue was lip-smacking busy in the Fort Myers area this year. Soon after Sonny’s BBQ closed a year ago in Fort Myers after a more than 35-year run, Mitchell’s Bar-B-Q took over there in early 2022. Big Nick’s BBQ opened early in the year after converting a former Dairy Queen into a barbecue joint, while Hot Pot & BBQ introduced a unique way to serve Korean barbecue.
Of course, pizza always is popular, too. Bada Bing Pizza Co. opened in the Fort Myers area in February, followed by Uncle Rico’s Pizza in March and 3 City Pizzeria in the former Pizza Fusion in April. Trattoria Padana started serving Italian specialties in late November.
Creative Asian cuisine was served by Token Ramen starting last July and Sea Street Food & Bar brought Vietnamese seafood to the area in mid-November. A trio of new south Fort Myers eateries launching last summer included Rooster’s Barn & Grill, Uva’s Vino & Tapas and The Doughnut Station.
Aussie Grill, Outback’s fast-casual spinoff, debuted the new chain here in early February. Eat Smart changed its name and concept to Lobster Rolls No. 1 in mid-January. Sweetening autumn in downtown Fort Myers, Best Ice Cream opened in September and Love Boat Ice Cream expanded in November.
Always a hot spot for new businesses, Cape Coral continued to add new eateries in 2022.
In the fall, Prime 239 steakhouse replaced Pan Olio in Cape Coral and new locations for First Watch and Mission BBQ opened on Pine Island Road. Last summer, Zen Deli opened a location in Northpoint shopping center and Pure Green launched its juice and smoothie bar.
In February, Art Cafe launched its eatery-gallery and Gazoops Ice Cream & Waffle Bar started scooping. The Spot took over the former space of Nice Guy’s Pizza on Cape Coral Parkway in January but the restaurant has not reopened yet since Hurricane Ian.
More Lee County
A couple of restaurants that launched this year remain closed since being damaged by Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28. Tutti Pazzi Italian Kitchen opened Jan. 21 on Sanibel but the restaurant has yet to reopen since the historic hurricane. Lit Coco Jamaican restaurant launched June 6 on Fort Myers Beach but it was devastated by the storm and its future is uncertain. On Oct. 1, the restaurant posted “R.I.P. Lit Coco” on its Facebook page.
A couple of new eateries opened in Gulf Coast Town Center. The Library Pizza & Pub quietly opened in February at the former Aurelio’s space and Koto Grill Sushi & Hibachi came in May to the old Burger 21 location.
In February, El Local food truck rolled out a brick-and-mortar spot on U.S. 41 in San Carlos Park. Collier-based Empire Bagel Factory introduced Lee County to its breakfast fare with its September launch near Alico and Interstate 75.
The Jan. 6 column will look back at the more than 60 restaurants that opened in the Naples area this year. Happy new year!
The “Tim Aten Knows” weekly column answers local questions from readers at GulfshoreBusiness.com. Follow Tim Aten on social media: @TimAtenKnows on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.
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December 30, 2022 at 11:10PM