THE DOC WILL SEE YOU
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