Downtown Fort Myers restaurants race to reopen after Hurricane Ian

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Downtown Fort Myers restaurants following Hurricane Ian

Downtown Fort Myers businesses held steady from the furious winds of Hurricane Ian, but they were deluged by the storm’s surge of water.  

On Day 7 after the storm ripped across Southwest Florida, First Street had garbage and storm debris littered across the sidewalks.  

Ford’s Garage and Capone’s, popular restaurants on the north side of First Street, were hit harder than The Lodge and Izzy’s Oyster House on the south side.  

Those four restaurants, plus Cabo’s Cantina, Social House, and Firestone, are all owned by various investors, who are picking up the pieces. All of them but Ford’s Garage are owned and managed by the Kearns Restaurant Group and Richter Hospitality Concept. 

During tourist season, those restaurants combine for about 600 employees, hence the race to get them up and running as soon as possible.  

“All the stores have been shut down with different levels of damage,” said Nils Richter, an investor in those restaurants and the organizer of the Downtown Property Owner’s Association. “Some we hope to open as early as next week. The stores with the least damage would be Izzy’s and The Lodge. Cabo’s took some more damage. Capone’s and Firestone took the most damage and need the most work. At Firestone, the water was over three feet.”  

The same investors also own two locations of the Boathouse restaurant, one in Cape Coral and another off State Road 31.  

“The Boathouse in the Cape took severe damage,” Richter said. “The Boathouse in Fort Myers will be open soon and took very little damage to the building itself. In the meantime, we’ve got 40 or 50 managers working every day, between all the stores, working to put the pieces back together. We should be well-positioned to be opening them one after the other.”  

The Lodge and Izzy’s could open as soon as next week, Richter said.  

On Tuesday, the Lodge gave away more than 700 meals. Pulled pork, chicken, beef, macaroni and cheese, whatever the barbecue restaurant had stored in its cooler was given away over several hours. Because the restaurant had no running water and could not open, it gave away the food before it could spoil.  

On Thursday, the day after Hurricane Ian hit, another business owner, Ali Perez, expressed hopelessness as she was clearing out water from her new Best Ice Cream location at 1401 Lee Street.  

By Tuesday, less than a week after the storm, she had reopened.  

“God Almighty!!!” Perez wrote in a text message. “HARD WORK! Round the clock! Teamwork!”  

Robbie Podgorski, who co-owns the Green Cup Café with girlfriend Jennifer Carbajal, will have a much tougher road to reopening. They lost the use of their Dean Park home, which was flooded, and they lost their cars, which went under water as well. During Hurricane Ian, they had to swim out of their house. Podgorski carried his two Chihuahuas, Rocko and Indiana Jones, on his head, across the street to their landlord’s house, which was also filling with water.  Downtown Fort Myers restaurants following Hurricane Ian

Podgorski and Carbajal later learned they lost everything inside of their business at 1412 Dean Street.  

“We had to pull out all of our drywall, all of our countertops and all of our cabinetry,” Podgorski said. “We cleared it all out the other day. I had 45 people show up. They were people I knew and people I didn’t know. They did what would have taken me four days in four hours. It was probably one of the most magnificent pieces of human kindness I had ever seen in my 32 years of life. I had a bunch of random kids from FGCU that heard our cry for help. We literally had an army of people. The Tampa Bay news came here and covered it all.”  

Podgorski set up a GoFundMe and has raised almost $8,000 short of a $15,000 goal. But he also has 15 employees and a monthly payroll of about $20,000. He wants to help them, too.  

“I’m not going anywhere,” Podgorski said. “I’m going to rebuild. I’m going to reopen. The timeline is something I can’t even begin to think about. This is something I’m going to have to take day by day. I’d like to say within two months. Maybe a month. In the time being, while we wait to reopen, I’ll be setting up a pop-up restaurant. Like a mini food truck.”  

“But I’ve got no car, no house. Everything’s destroyed. Every day, we’re staying somewhere different. Last night was the first time I’ve slept in a bed in six days.”  

That line between hopelessness and hope in downtown Fort Myers kept getting bridged. Tourist season on the islands and beaches will not happen this year and perhaps not next year either. But Richter built a bridge to hope, thinking seasonal residents and vacationers will find other ways to enjoy the City of Palms besides the beaches, and his restaurants will be full when the winters get cold again up north. 

The Downtown House of Pizza on Hendry Street never lost power and reopened the day after Hurricane Ian passed through and had a line out the door, filing along the Hendry Street sidewalk. 

“A lot of the people who are seasonal will be coming back,” Richter said. “Our main customer base is local anyways. If you look at the damage, it’s extensive. But it’s a smaller percentage of the properties. If you go to I-75 and the Fiddlesticks and Gateway, it almost looks like there wasn’t a hurricane. Their lives didn’t change. The lives changed on the coast.” 

“Every property owner that I know downtown, they’ve been rolling up their sleeves. They’re working extremely hard. In a month, downtown is going to look really good again.”  

For more news on the Southwest Florida business community’s recovery from Hurricane Ian visit

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