Sanibel land­mark’s new digs, a dream kitchen, wow fac­tor at play


The “Doc” has some new digs. Af­ter 13 years on Rab­bit Road, the iconic Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille on Sanibel has moved into a spec­tac­u­lar new space at the cor­ner of Is­land Inn and Tar­pon Bay roads. Co-own­ers Marty Har­rity and Mark Marinello have been op­er­at­ing restau­rants at the Rab­bit Road lo­ca­tion since 1997, but the early con­cepts didn’t quite fly. Then in 2003 they were in­tro­duced to nov­el­ist Randy Wayne White. Within 24 hours the group had a deal giv­ing birth to Doc Ford’s. The suc­cess­ful con­cept even­tu­ally ex­panded to lo­ca­tions on Fort My­ers Beach and Cap­tiva.

Fast for­ward to 2015 where the orig­i­nal restau­rant is burst­ing at the seams, lease ne­go­ti­a­tions are fall­ing through, and the tim­ing be­comes right to cre­ate some­thing more ac­com­mo­dat­ing. The par­cel on Is­land Inn Road was Sanibel’s last com­mer­cial prop­erty, ac­cord­ing to Har­rity. “We bought the lot maybe six or se ven years ago in an­tic­i­pa­tion we would have to move.”

Sanibel’s tough build­ing and de­vel­op­ment reg­u­la­tions and push­back from a few neigh­bors made things chal­leng­ing. Har­rity’s po­si­tion on city coun­cil did not make it eas­ier. “I don’t think there’s been a project on this is­land that has gone un­der more scru­tiny than this has,” he says.

With ap­proval granted, the team be­gan en­vi­sion­ing what the ac­tual house of Doc Ford would look like. Ford is the main char­ac­ter in a se­ries of books by White: a fic­tional ex-govern­ment agent and marine bi­ol­o­gist solv­ing mys­ter­ies and crimes. Southwest Florida is of­ten a back­drop. Work­ing with Bench­mark General Con­trac­tors

The team brought their vi­sion to life, one that in­cluded lots of light, a tin roof and re­claimed wood.

and ar­chi­tect Mark An­der­son, the team brought their vi­sion to life, one that in­cluded lots of light, a tin roof and re­claimed wood, with an out­doorsy/fish-house feel. With the struc­ture in place, co-owner Brenda Har­rity focused on the in­te­rior. “We wanted nau­ti­cal,” she says. “We wanted Old Florida, and we wanted to make it look like we’ve been here.”

Doc’s has three out­side din­ing spa­ces with weather screens and fans. The front pa­tio is el­e­vated just enough to get a near con­stant Gulf breeze, so it’s com­fort­able year round. The in­te­rior is open, airy and invit­ing from the mo­ment you walk in, with high ceil­ings and an eye-catch­ing, wrap-around bar made with strik­ing re­claimed wood. The up­stairs Tar­pon Room is an over­flow area with an­other bar and more seat­ing.

Per­haps the big­gest im­prove­ment is some­thing the pub­lic will never see—the kitchen. It’s huge, ac­cord­ing to Marty Har­rity, a dream for the back-of-the-house staff. With room for the proper oven, Sanibel joins the other Doc Ford’s in of­fer­ing flat­breads. Other than that, the Caribbean-in­spired, from-scratch menu re­mains the same.

The last day of ser­vice on Rab­bit Road was La­bor Day. Three days later the doors of the new restau­rant opened to a stand­ing-room cel­e­bra­tion of dig­ni­taries and fans. While reg­u­lars gushed about the new digs, Marty Har­rity ex­claimed, “It’s a mag­nif­i­cent build­ing, it really is. It’s gor­geous but the build­ing is noth­ing, just brick and mor­tar with­out the peo­ple.”

Marinello agrees, ad­ding the new restau­rant is both an in­vest­ment and com­mit­ment to the com­mu­nity, as well as em­ploy­ees. He says, “We have a great staff … we wouldn’t be able to do it with­out them.”

Doc’s hos­pi­tal­ity keeps Sanibel res­i­dent Steve Turner com­ing back. “It’s kind of like a club and the staff make you feel like fam­ily,” he ex­plains with a smile and nod di­rected at general man­ager Kim­mie McGon­nell.

McGon­nell is not only thrilled with the new build­ing but its lo­ca­tion, say­ing, “Sanibel doesn’t have a down­town area, there has been a lot of an­tic­i­pa­tion about us mov­ing over here and I think maybe it will gen­er­ate a lit­tle bit of a mee ting place. When we shut down peo­ple can go over to Ge­orge & Wendy’s; it’s a great lit­tle mecca of an area now.”

As for the old Rab­bit Road lo­ca­tion, man­age­ment hasn’t given up on it. If a lease agree­ment can be reached, own­ers have a new con­cept up their sleeve ― but they’re not spilling the beans just yet. Har­rity says, “In ev­ery good fish­ing boat that goes out, there are lots of lines, so we have the out­rig­ger and about six lines in the wa­ter. We are al­ways on the hunt look­ing for stuff [eye­brows raised], so you never know.”

Sig­na­ture mo­ji­tos, a Caribbean-in­spired menu and a fun at­mos­phere are sig­na­tures of the three Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille eater­ies.

Doc Ford's is open and airy, the up­stairs Tar­pon Room fea­tur­ing an­other bar and more seat­ing.

Fort My­ers Beach TOTI Me­dia founder/chair­man Friedrich Jaeger (left) con­grat­u­lates Marty Har­rity at the Septem­ber open­ing of the new Sanibel Doc Ford's. Out­door din­ing is a pop­u­lar op­tion (right) at each of the three lo­ca­tions. Cap­tiva

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