With so many Paradise Coast–based entrepreneurs whipping up delicious treats—from ales, chocolates, juices, and jams to dog biscuits—Southwest Florida is a locavore’s dream. Many homegrown food businesses in the Naples area came about as an offspring of necessity. These owners could not find the kinds of products they wanted to feed themselves, their kids, or their dogs. So they invented them. Several thriving local entrepreneurs have filled market niches with their foresight, creativity, and diligence.
When Le Lafayette restaurant partners Juan Camarena and Sebastien Maillard decided last year to open up a new foodie enterprise, they could not have gone further afield from their downtown fine French restaurant than Candy Grandy (239-262-2621), the bright and whimsical candy shop for kids and grown-ups in Coastland Center. The only similarity lies in the delicious homemade chocolates, macaroons, pastries, and cakes geared for adults.
Once Upon a Bean
A self-taught chocolatier, Tracy Peck began experimenting with mixing chocolate and gourmet salts for family and friends to sample. Demand eventually led to an online mail-order business, Once Upon a Bean (239-206-3092). Based in Naples, Peck sells her handmade artisan chocolate barks, truffles, and other sweet specialties at farmers markets.
Olde Naples Chocolate
Laurie Rose purchased the then 20-year-old chocolate shop on Third Street South in 2003 and four years later moved Olde Naples Chocolate (239-262-3975) to its current location on Fifth Avenue North and Tamiami Trail. “It’s a classic chocolate shop with turtles and caramels and all,” she says. The biggest retail seller is the dark chocolate sea salt disk, but the shop also specializes in beach-themed wedding favors.
Norman Love Confections
Norman Love has become the first and last name in chocolate in these parts since opening his first location in Fort Myers (239-561-7215) in 2001. Years in pastry kitchens, plus early training in France, taught Love the art of chocolate. His sweet kingdom has today grown to include shops in Naples (239-687-7215) and Estero (239-672-8787). Nearly 30 venues plus Princess Cruise Line sell his award-winning, artful sweets in uncountable varieties.
Lee Queen Bee
“Queen Bee” Claudia Silveira learned beekeeping from her grandmother in Brazil. After moving to Southwest Florida in 2004, she opened her business, Lee Queen Bee (239-645-2170), in Estero in 2008, producing local pure raw honeys such as orange blossom, avocado, saw palmetto, and mangrove. She sells at farmers markets and accepts orders by phone and Facebook.
Naples Honey Company
A third-generation beekeeper as well as a cellist with the Naples Philharmonic, Tom May tends up to 85 hives in his Naples apiary, which started in 1999 with an anniversary gift from his wife. At farmers markets, he sells his different varieties of Naples Finest Honey through Naples Honey Company (239-530-8755), including wildflower, made from nectar collected by bees from some 30 different plants.
Allen Walker has been making honey since age 12. Forty-seven years later, he is still making honey so tasty it made Oprah’s “O List” in 2001. He opened Walker Farms (239-543-8071) in North Fort Myers in the late 1960s and has stuck to an inventory of four types of local honeys. Tourists (and Oprah) favor the orange blossom, but locals tend to opt for the wildflower.
GROWING…IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
Just when you think you’ve gotten your head around the vast extent of the Oakes Farms empire (239-561-7215), Alfie Oakes starts talking about a new concept in foodie destinations, a 76,500-square-foot market-restaurant that he expects to open in North Naples in November.
His accomplishments in the food industry since he opened the well-loved Oakes Farm Market on Davis Boulevard 21 years ago astound mere mortals. He has expanded the market twice. Today it’s a cathedral of worship to fresh produce, bakery goods, gourmet items, seafood, butcher showcases, wine, and deli and prepared foods to eat in or take out.
“I think we may be the only bakery the size of ours in the country that makes every single thing from scratch—no premade cookie dough, no mixes,” says Oakes. “And we’re actually producing more than a hundred different items.”
Besides enticing pies, cakes, cookies, and pastries, Oakes Farms makes in-house its own brand of crab dip and dressings, such as peach pecan, apple pecan, and roasted garlic with Vidalia onion, and sweet pepper vinaigrette. There are Fuzzy Navel and zesty horseradish jams, plus fresh salsa and guacamole.
All of the market’s produce—organic and conventional—comes from Oakes Florida farms, six of which lie within Collier County. The business also stocks its 100 percent organic Food & Thought market and café, and distributes to 160 restaurants and public schools in Lee and Collier counties.
Oakes Farms owns a greenhouse and fish farm, and distributes seafood to local restaurants. It distributes produce and packaged (diced) fruits and vegetables nationwide. By the time Oakes opens his Seed To Table property in North Naples, he expects his employee corps to reach 1,000, as all facets of his operation appear to flourish, like the produce he grows.
JUICES, JAMS & SPREADS
Partners Sebastian Mancera and Alexandra DiCicco—frustrated by the shortage of local places where they could follow their journey to natural, healing foods—began making organic cold-pressed juices to sell at farmers market and by delivery. In November 2015, they opened Juicelation (239-529-2290), expanding the inventory to smoothies, salads, desserts, and other raw and organic foods.
A surplus of tropical fruit at her plantation house bed and breakfast in St. Croix, USVI, started Jacquie Hoare-Ward on the path to “jamming.” When she and her husband moved to the Naples area 13 years ago, she transplanted her business—Jacquie’s Jamming—using fruit from her yard, Pine Island, and other local sources. Today she sells eight varieties of chutneys, citrus marmalades, and jams online. (239-514-0087)
The Mustard Factory
Keely Smith took on the FDA to prove that her mustards were not only safe without cooking, but tasted better. By 2013, she and husband Neil Hastie were in business in Naples, and today The Mustard Factory sells 11 varieties of bold-flavored mustards online, through Amazon, and to local markets. Favorites: spicy stout, horseradish, and award-winning St. Clements honey mustard. (239-738-1033)
Registered dietician and Naples mother Betsy Opyt was appalled by grocery store peanut butter ingredients. So she started making her own for her daughter, who refused to eat the tasteless natural varieties. A little cinnamon, some chia seeds, and a touch of honey later, Opyt had a business—Betsy’s Butter—that has grown into four types of nut butters with distribution nearing 1,000 stores nationwide. (239-297-8844)
Brian and Kate Hahn conceived their Bonita Springs microbrewery after moving from Chicago and missing the craft beer scene that was just taking off. Both have manufacturing backgrounds, and Brian had been experimenting with home-brewing. “He has taken those skills to making beer instead of car components and other products he was involved with in the past,” says Kate. Momentum Brewhouse, which opened November 2014, keeps seven beers on tap with a rotation of 35 recipes in its repertoire. Most popular, the Pierce’s Pale is now available in more than 25 local restaurants and in their tasting room, which the Hahns say has more of a “coffeehouse feel.” (239-949-9945)
Point Ybel Brewing Company
Pount Ybel Brewing Company gets its name from the lighthouse end of Sanibel Island, where owners Walt and Amy Costello live. Because Sanibel city ordinances prohibit microbreweries, the Costellos opened between Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach, and name the nearly 100 beers they’ve served after fish or beach life. Snook Bite IPA is the flagship. Originally, they sold half their beer to local restaurants and in the beer capital, Tampa; the other half in their tasting room. “We now sell 90 percent in our tasting room,” Costello says. “We’ll be doing an expansion to keep up with the demand.” (239-603-6535)
Riptide Brewing Company
Three guys, eight beers, one man cave. Most recent on the scene, this Naples brewery—Riptide Brewing Company—grew out of three friends’ love of beer, which they shared in a home brewery they described as a warehouse-sized man cave. In November 2015, the brewery opened its doors and is already going gangbusters in Naples. Top sellers: Paddlepuss Blonde and the Big Conch IPA. (239-228-6533)
Naples Beach Brewery
After dabbling in home brewing, studying in Chicago and Munich, Germany, and working at a Michigan brewery, Will Lawson opened Naples Beach Brewery in November 2012. Nearly 60 local restaurants carry his beers, which consist of four core and other signature beers, all brewed for the Southwest Florida lifestyle. (239-304-8795)
Fort Myers Brewing Company
Despite their off-the-drinking-path venue in Fort Myers, Rob Whyte and wife Jennifer Gratz have experienced rapid growth since opening Fort Myers Brewing Company three years ago “in the middle of nowhere,” Whyte says. They added 7,000 square feet to their tasting facility and 300 tap handles dispense their brand in Lee County alone. Whyte says growing competition helps their business. “We’re all friends and talk about each other with customers,” he says. “It helps expand the craft brewing knowledge.” (239-313-6576)
Dogs Love Kale
How did Paula Savarese and Dawn Ward discover dogs love kale? They made kale chips for themselves to eat, and their dogs “went crazy” for them, says Ward. Since 2013, the Naples-based business, Dogs Love Kale, has developed eight wheat-free flavors from organic turkey to sweet potatoes and apple crisp, which they sell to 3,000 retailers nationwide.
Top Dog Kitchen
Kathleen Manchero quit her corporate day job to open a pet bakery in Aventura, Florida, in 2006. Top Dog Kitchen moved to Naples in 2010 and now, with the help of husband Frank, Manchero sells her line of healthy baked dog treats, jerky, and grooming products at her East Naples stores, online, at farmers markets, and to more than 30 outlets nationwide. (239-331-8143)
Smilin’ Dog Bakery
Between raising a son and working full-time, Teresa Hoover started experimenting with making all-natural ice cream for her dog five years ago. She now has three dogs, a cat, and a new full-time job running her North Naples store and online business, Smilin’ Dog Bakery, selling 17 homemade grain-free products, such as Cravin’ Cranberry Crunch biscuits and dehydrated Swingin’ Smelt treats. (239-596-3644)
The “dipidy” refers to the yogurt and carob into which owner Valheriee Royce dunks her 50-plus organic, gluten-free dog cookies. She went into the business in 2007, faced with three dogs suffering from digestive disorders. The Coconut Point shop, Dipidy Dawg, also sells “hair of the dog” custom birthday cakes and a full line of pet foods, grooming items, and novelties. (239-949-9885)