Katie Gardenia to make appearance at South Seas Island Resort
Katie Gardenia, who originally opened The Bubble Room 38 years ago, will be recounting the early years of the restaurant next Tuesday in the Captiva Ballroom at South Seas Island Resort.
Gardenia initially came to Captiva in 1978 to get married.
“I had never been to Florida, I’m from Texas so we drove all the way through Florida and I thought it was absolutely horrible with all the billboards and everything and then we came over the bridge and down the winding road with the Australian pines almost like a canopy over the road, I fell in love with it,” Gardenia said.
Gardenia and her then-husband made a permanent move to the island and purchased The Owl and the Pussy Cat gift shop with hopes of turning it into a restaurant. After months of hard work, Gardenia opened The Bubble Room May 27, 1979. For the first few months, they lived upstairs above the restaurant.
“It took much longer than we thought, so we ran out of money and we didn’t get to do the kind of restaurant we wanted to do,” Gardenia said.
The restaurant’s name is derived from her grandmother’s bubble lights that she used to decorate her Christmas tree with.
Basically, it was a throw-together which was going to change after we made some money,” she said.
Since Gardenia did not have much money for advertising, she made her own brochures and went down to Bailey’s herself and put them on every car’s windshield in the parking lot.
“The first night we opened at 5 p.m. and nobody came and nobody came and I kept thinking ‘Well this isn’t so good’ and then around 6:30 p.m., we had 27 seats seat full,” Gardenia said.
As the restaurant became more popular, Gardenia had to keep on adding rooms then eventually use the upstairs area where she lived for dining.
“For the first year, I did not leave that building. I was there baking and cooking. I didn’t own a freezer so every day, I’d start from scratch and make my own sticky buns and bread. It was a labor of love,” she said.
Many of the obscure items found in The Bubble Room came from stores she went to all across the U.S. and from patrons who dropped things off at the back door.
“I’d look up and someone would be holding a Shirley Temple doll that was their grandmother’s,” she said.
Most of the recipes came from her grandmother, the other ones she says were “accidents.”
“My grandmother had a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, and she was from Poland and didn’t speak English. Her one word was “consistency,” it had to be the same everyday and that’s what I believe in. I learned how to bake from her but I never thought I’d be baking 19 different desserts a day and bread and buns,” she laughs.
Gardenia said that one of her favorite aspects of owning The Bubble Room were the unique people she met along the way.
“There was a couple who used to come over, they owned a private island and they would come by boat. They would bring me mangoes and avocados. One night, he brought me a brown paper bag and I opened it up and everybody in the dining room said I screamed so loud they could hear out there. He brought me frog legs with all their toe nails painted,” Gardenia said.
Eventually, Gardenia sold her restaurant in 1989 and moved on to new adventures. She now lives in North Carolina in a 200-year-old post office that also houses her gallery.
In the meantime, she released her memoir, “A Bubble Moment” in 2011. She also still makes her signature hand-crafted dolls which she has sold to various collectors all over the world. Gardenia has a new children’s book in the works as well and she will be redesigning the menu again for The Bubble Room. She said the current owners still keep her very involved.
“I’m so proud of them. They’ve kept it the standards to what I would have wanted,” she said.