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These area restaurants closed during the first half of 2017.
Tim Aten

A trio of major local restaurants closed in the past week.

The recently departed dining spots include Stage Deli and Fish Crazy in North Naples and Midtown Kitchen + Bar in Naples.

Midtown

Midtown Kitchen + Bar closed July 5 after operating only 13 months in a space formerly occupied by the TGI Friday’s chain for more than 20 years.

Longtime local restaurateur Michael Hernandez, his wife, Lisa, and their business team launched Midtown in June 2016 as a more casual “midtown” dining and nightlife option to their HobNob Kitchen + Bar in downtown Naples. The idea was to channel a little downtown vibe to create a locals hangout on that northeast corner of U.S. 41 and Golden Gate Parkway.

“The people we had seemed to really like it. The concept just wasn’t right for the market. Maybe we made it a little too upscale,” Hernandez said. “I think we had a good group of locals. It just wasn’t enough to sustain us.”

Hernandez, who has created a series of local restaurants over decades, said this is the first time he had to close a business this way.

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“I’ve been doing this a long time. I never really had anything like this happen to me. I never had to do this before. It doesn’t feel good,” he said. “I’ve been broken by it. It’s kind of a devastating feeling.”

Hernandez began creating restaurants here in the late 1980s. In addition to HobNob, which he has operated since December 2013, he previously owned Michael’s Cafe, the original Bistro 821, Trios, Zoë’s and Aqua Grill. He also took over the former Handsome Harry’s Third Street Bistro, and in January he launched Public House in North Naples.

Because Hernandez and company still have a long-term lease for Midtown’s space at the southern end of The Gateway of Naples, a possibility exists that the shuttered restaurant could be rebranded as a new concept, but the retail center’s owners would have to approve.

“That’s something I’m trying to do,” Hernandez said. “I definitely would go a more casual route if given a chance. It’s something we’ll have to look at.”

In the meantime, Hernandez will concentrate on his team’s successes at HobNob and Public House.

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“I have to focus my energy on the other two restaurants,” he said.

Gift cards for Midtown will be welcomed at both sister restaurants.

Although the Midtown setback has had an adverse effect on his personal and professional family, count on Hernandez to rebound. Of course, his future projects most likely will be shaped by lessons learned at Midtown.

“If I had to do it over again, I would definitely go much more casual. In hindsight, that seems pretty apparent,” he said.

 

Stage Deli

Stage Deli closed between lunch and dinner service July 5 after operating for 7½ years at Mercato in North Naples.

The restaurant opened in January 2010 as Stage 62 Deli but was rebranded last year as Stage Deli Fine Foods after a major overhaul project rolled out a more sophisticated dining area and new menu items.

“We did somewhat of a redecoration to bring it up to the level of my other restaurants, just for consistencies,” said Steve Goldberg, executive chef and son of the founders of Stage Deli in Michigan in 1962 — hence its original Stage 62 name.

The deli — known for its piled-high corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, matzo ball soup and cheese blintzes — was one of the original restaurants in Mercato, which also recently lost Masa, The Rusty Bucket, and Taps Restaurant and Lounge. Goldberg said there was not a change in rent.

“I’ve returned the space to Mercato on amicable terms, and we’ve all parted as gentlemen,” he said.

Goldberg’s focus and time will be on his businesses in Michigan, but he plans to continue to spend time in Naples, where he also has a home.

“I’ve got several things in the works up here in Michigan,” he said. “I want to concentrate efforts in Michigan for a while and enjoy my time in Naples.”

However, it’s not out of the question that Goldberg would launch another eatery in the Naples area eventually.

“I think Naples hasn’t heard the end of me,” he said. “I just really don’t have anything on tap.”

 

Fish Crazy

Fish Crazy Restaurant & Fish Market closed this week after operating for nearly 2½ years on U.S. 41 in North Naples just south of the Collier-Lee line.

When Fish Crazy launched in February 2015 in the former Naples Tomato space at Tamiami Square retail center, it marked the local return of Randy Essig, known for previously operating Randy’s Fishmarket Restaurant in North Naples and Rodes Market in Bonita Springs. Essig brought his restaurant knowledge and famous key lime pie to a venue that featured the area’s only indoor bocce court.

But, over time, things at Fish Crazy really got a little crazy with a sort of Randy’s déjà vu experience. Essig’s managing partner role was diminished, while Doug Hannah, the former owner of Tamiami Square, eventually controlled the seafood business.

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“We are still trying to work something out,” Essig said.

The longtime local restaurateur could wind up managing the restaurant space again or put his Randy’s name atop another local restaurant.

“I’ve got another location I can’t discuss,” he said.

At any rate, the Fish Crazy that Essig helped create is gone.

“It’s sad because it was a great restaurant. We had some good people working there,” he said. “It’s sad when any place closes.”

Hannah also could possibly reopen the restaurant, which he said would definitely remain dark for the next week.

“Honestly, it could reopen in six months or it could be 10 days,” he said.

“We’re not sure what we are going to do. I may open it up in a new location. It may not be in Naples or Bonita Springs.”

If he reopens the restaurant, Hannah said its name most likely would be changed, although it probably would be a variation of Fish Crazy.

“I don’t think I would reopen with the same name,” he said. “It’s probably got to be something else because I have to get away from what he’s posted all over social media.”

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Hannah is talking about a man who is known for suing several local restaurants over many years in trumped-up discrimination suits and the like. His latest racket is allegedly shaking down businesses with multiple negative comments on websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.

“He wants to be paid a settlement and then he’ll remove the posts. Every time he posts he puts one star, which drops the overall rating,” Hannah said. “The scoring has become important because people read things online and they think it’s legitimate.”

Subsequently, sales declined for a restaurant already struggling in a seasonal, competitive market, a challenging industry and a tough economy.

“This social media thing is killing us. We probably would have survived,” Hannah said. “Considering what’s happening with the restaurant issue, this is like a nail in the coffin. I don’t need this. So I shut it down.”

For the latest in local restaurants coming and going, see Tim Aten’s “In the Know” columns archived at naplesnews.com/intheknow, and on Facebook at facebook.com/timaten.intheknow.

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