Nader has brought a ‘Steel City’ flavor to Sanibel for the last 12 years
Despite being located off the beaten path of Periwinkle Way, Pittsburgh native John Nader’s business venture 12 years ago in the form of the Great White Grill has prospered.
It’s also quite obvious to discover what NFL, MLB, NHL and college teams Nader loves, too, since they are plastered all over the walls, chairs and booths of the Great White Grill.
The color combo of black and gold dominates the theme of the Great White Grill, which obviously represent the colors of Nader’s hometown teams of Pittsburgh.
“I’ve always been a Pittsburgh fan. I had season tickets to the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates and the U of Pitt basketball team,” Nader said. “That’s all I did, that was my fun. I never figured I would ever leave Pittsburgh, but if I was, I was going to take as much of it with me as possible.”
That time came in 2004, when Nader and his family moved from the Steel City to Sanibel, after falling in love with it by vacationing the island all the way through the 1990s.
Nader arrived on Sanibel July 22, 2004 and closed on his dream bar/restaurant (at 2440 Palm Ridge) July 28. And yes, it was literally a dream come true for Pitt native.
“My mom always said I wanted to own my own bar since I was 11 years old,” Nader said. “I always knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
But his venture into owning his own bar/restaurant had to be put on hold after he moved down to Sanibel. Unfortunately, 16 days after Nader closed on the future Great White Grill, Hurricane Charley ripped through Southwest Florida.
“(His daughter) Tess and I went down to Naples during Hurricane Charley and we figured we’d be there a couple of days, since we’ve never experienced a hurricane,” Nader said. “But we ended up living off island for six weeks and were not allowed back on the island for a week. So I didn’t know if I even had a place anymore.”
Although there was some damage to his new facility, it wasn’t extensive enough to deter his dream. So Nader “made good out of the bad” and built a new kitchen and remodeled the dining area to his liking – which meant a definite Pittsburgh feel to it.
On Dec. 21, 2004, the Great White Grill officially opened its doors.
“I was kicking around the idea of naming it after a Pittsburgh theme, but I didn’t think that would take,” Nader said. “I’ve always loved sharks and since we were on an island surrounded by salt water, I went with Great White Grill.”
But that’s about as much the Great White Grill resembles a Sanibel bar/restaurant. Nader created his own niche’ in the food community of Sanibel and serves “comfort food” such as burgers and fries, while not relying of seafood to carry the load.
Although Nader’s restaurant/bar work experience was limited to his days of bartending, he still went with what he knew.
“I feel at ease cooking with what I know and that’s cooking comfort foods,” Nader said. “I wanted a place in which I wanted to go to. The biggest compliments I receive from people is it’s like sitting in their own living room, it feels comfortable.”
And don’t forget the lavish displays of Steelers, Penguins and Pirates’ memorabilia. The black and gold is evident from the first step in the Great White Grill, with legendary uniforms on the back of three barstools of the Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount and Penguin legend Sidney Crosby.
The Great White Grill is listed in Steeler books as a favorite Pittsburgh bar in the nation and is on the destination list of many Steel City sports fans when visiting Southwest Florida.
“We get a lot of Pittsburgh people through here, but you don’t have to be a Pittsburgh fan to enjoy the environment,” Nader said. “On Sundays, wear your favorite team’s jersey, it’s a fun atmosphere.
“One day, an older gentleman came up and asked for a picture with me. Here, he was a 94-year-old vet who served in World War II and was from Pittsburgh and served on the USS Pittsburgh. It was one of the biggest compliments I’ve had.”
One aspect Nader does not get to enjoy is much time off. He does over 70-percent of the cooking and also has a small, hard-working crew of three to four employees. The Great White Grill is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. so there’s not much time to take off.
He is also the proud father of a high school graduate, with Tess graduating from Fort Myers High School this past spring. She will be attending Florida Atlantic University this coming fall.
With the last 12 years going as well as another Steeler victory, Nader is happy to serve some great comfort food to his guests, along with a heavy dash of black and gold spirit.