Rumrunners has been going on in Cape Harbor for the past few months.
After almost two decades at the southwest Cape Coral Marina, the restaurant has to close at the end of December.
“Basically, our rental contract, which ends in December, has been refused to renew by our landlord,” said Rumrunners’ chef and co-owner Todd Johnson. “On November 12th, we were open in this room for 18 years.”
Johnson, who co-owns Rumrunners with co-founders Jeff Gately and Ralph Centalonza, doesn’t know exactly when the restaurant will close its doors. When asked if he knew what would replace Rumrunners, Johnson declined to comment. He called the termination of the lease a business decision and a risk that he and his co-owners took by opening a room that did not belong to them.
When the three partners brought Rumrunners onto the market, the building was little more than supporting pillars and a floor. Prior to Rumruners, Johnson and Gately had developed and operated several successful dining concepts, including the original Bistro 41 in south Fort Myers, Aqua Grill in Naples, and Mia’s in Tampa, all of which were selling. The 10,000 square meter Rumrunners with 300 seats were the partners’ largest company to date.
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The trio teamed up with Cape Harbor owner and developer Will Stout to build the waterfront restaurant from scratch, according to news from the time, and turned it into something island casual with a chef-led menu.
When Rumrunners opened its doors, Cape Coral had nothing like it. As a 2003 article by The News-Press noted, “the city lacks restaurants with water views.”
“We didn’t go to Cape Coral at first because there is so much business in Fort Myers and Naples,” Gately said in the article that aired Nov. 12, 2003, the opening day of Rumrunners. “But we decided to come here when we saw what was happening not just in Cape Harbor, but the Cape in general.”
Cape Coral had 124,000 inhabitants 18 years ago. The city now has more than 184,000 residents and is consistently one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, according to the latest 2019 census data available
Since the introduction of Rumrunners, the waterfront Cape dining scene has grown too, thanks to the additions of nearby Safe Harbor (home to Fathoms, Cape Harbor Oyster Bar, The French Press) and Tarpon Point Marina (home to Pinchers, Gather, The Nauti Mermaid ). , Marker 92).
Valeria Zanella Voisin, a partner at Fathoms and Gather, described the upcoming Rumrunners closure as a tragedy.
“You are an important and amazing part of Cape Harbor. You were there from the start. Everyone knows them, ”she said. “It’s really, really sad. We still can’t believe it’s true.”
Gary Tasman, CEO and founder of Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Property Southwest Florida, said that such a termination decision is ultimately in the hands of the landlord.
Tasman said restaurant tenants are bound by rental documents, which can include various types of provisions, “but at the end of the day, when the time for that lease is up, the owner can do what they want.”
Stout, the CEO of The Realmark Organization who helped build Rumrunners and who still owns the building and adjoining marina, didn’t respond to calls and messages on Monday for comment. The Realmark website lists Rumrunners among its assets and states, “The partnership with the Rumrunners team has been exceptionally successful.”
Tasman said terminating a lease after so many years was a tough decision to make. It can also be expensive and risky due to rental disruptions if the new tenant is not as successful as the previous one.
“(Stout) may have a restaurant that he wants to set up there that is willing to pay him twice as much and he has the right,” said Tasman. “Maybe they couldn’t agree? Maybe Will Stout has his own concept that he would like to implement there? You do not know. But losing a long-standing business, no matter how it happens, is always disappointing. “
When asked if he and his partners would move and reopen Rumrunners, Johnson again declined to comment. He said the restaurant had around 70 employees, all of whom were informed of the impending closure.
“They are great people,” said Voisin. “That something like this should happen to you after all these years is terrible.”
Rumrunners is located at 5848 Cape Harbor Drive, Cape Coral; Call 239-542-0200 or visit rumrunnersrestaurant.com for more information.
Annabelle Tometich writes about food and restaurants for The News-Press and Naples Daily News. Connect with this reporter: email@example.com; @abellewrites (Instagram); @atometich (Twitter).
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