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Second Doc Ford’s restaurant prepares to open on Fort Myers Beach

By Staff | Apr 15, 2009

Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille is coming to Fort Myers Beach and is expected to open its second location at the former Bridge Waterfront Restaurant at 708 Fisherman’s Wharf sometime next week.

The new Doc Ford’s – named for the fictional hero in the mystery novels by local, best-selling author Randy Wayne White – will feature the same tropical-themed decor and menu found at its original location in Sanibel. One of the highlights includes terrific views of the Back Bay and Matanzas Pass. There also will be inside and outdoor dockside seating that can accommodate close to 300 people.

Owners Marty and Brenda Harrity and business partner Mark Marinello are confident they have the right stuff and reputation to draw patrons into their new establishment for good food and entertainment at affordable prices in an idyllic waterfront setting. One can expect plenty of fresh seafood since Doc Ford’s is right in front of the largest commercial shrimp fleet in the United States.

“A down economy is an opportunity, said Marty Harrity. “We’re not going to participate in the recession.”

The Harritys and Marinello have enjoyed many years of success with the original Doc Ford’s on Sanibel and the popular Beached Whale restaurant at 1249 Estero Blvd. Marty Harrity is keenly aware how important it is to provide high-quality food and beverages, along with top-notch service and entertainment. The trick is to retain customers who are more selective with their dwindling disposable income.

“We work hard at what we do,” said Harrity. “We have a wonderful product; we understand what people want. Our mission is about exceeding customer expectations.”

Harrity wants people to come by and to come back.

“People establish expectations before they walk in the door,” he said. “If you’re not happy, we’re not doing our job.”

The new restaurant, which received a complete overhaul with fresh paint, new fixtures and a tropical motif, will provide patrons with full-liquor bars downstairs and on the upper deck. Sports fans will relish in watching the big-screen televisions. The outdoor stage will be graced by local entertainment coordinated by popular performer Danny Morgan while the restaurant will be run by general manager Dan Howes.

“We’ve completely renovated the building,” Marinello said. “I think it captures everything that represents what Doc Ford’s is. We’re really excited about the whole Doc Ford’s concept. I think people need to be entertained, certainly in this environment.”

Randy Wayne White, who is also a business partner, is expected to frequent the new restaurant by boat – as he used to live and work as a fishing guide out of Matanzas Pass. Several of his books’ characters are based on people he knew during this time, which Doc Ford fans will surely appreciate. Signed copies of White’s books, including his current best-seller “Dead Silence,” and other merchandise will be available at the new location.

“The Doc Ford’s theme and the Doc Ford character are exciting,” Marinello noted. “It’s really a part of what Southwest Florida is. We’re honored to carry that mantle for Randy White and we are going to treat it like a valuable part of Southwest Florida history.

In White’s novels, Doc Ford is a character who operates a small biological specimen-supply business from a marine lab in his stilt-supported house at a marina. The Ostego Bay Foundation Marine Science Center – once called the Bonita Fish Company and next door to the new restaurant – may still provide records of White’s Fort Myers Beach Tarpon Club standings from twenty-some years ago.

“He used to coach a Little League team on Fort Myers Beach at the same time I did,” said Ostego Bay president Joanne Semmer. “He lived off of Main Street on San Carlos Island years ago.”

Marinello mentioned it may be a homecoming of sorts for White.

“Randy created his characters essentially out of his Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Tarpon Bay and Pine Island fishing life and his life as a fishing guide,” Marinello added, “I think what we’ve got here reflects the settings and characters in the books. Both restaurants capture that and certainly with the back bay working waterfront location of the new place right here on fisherman’s wharf, Fort Myers Beach.”

Doc Ford’s hopes to attract tourists after they’ve returned from their dolphin and shelling expeditions and their sunset cruises.

“Waterfront restaurant dining is a rarity, so just the setting itself is going to be unique and everything is brand new, and a great menu and a great chef. There’s something for everybody; we’re very family-friendly. People can really expect top quality food to come out of this place. That’s what our commitment is. It’s going to be an exciting location, put it that way.”