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Rumrunners: ‘Escape, dine & unwind’

February 27, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Jeff Gately and Todd Johnson bring a reputation for a quality dining experience with them to Rumrunners as the original owner/operators of Bistro 41 in Fort Myers. They have been partners since 1997. When they sold Bistro 41 in 2002, they brought in another partner, Ralph Centalonza, who had worked with them at Bistro 41 and began working on Rumrunners.

According to Johnson, "The developer, Will Stout, came to us and was adamant about having us do a restaurant in a prime shell on the water at his new development he was building in Cape Harbour. He pitched Cape Coral and what his plans were for the first high-end residential development in Cape Coral, a development that eventually showcased Cape Coral as a prime waterfront community. When Jeff and I came out and saw what Will was doing, we were so impressed that we wanted to be part of his plan. The restaurant still had dirt floors. The wall and the location were so wonderful, especially knowing that we had a blank canvas to work from."

Johnson continues, "The menu was easy, the concept and name took a couple of months. We had the color scheme and food picked out and the location. How do you come up with a name for something that fills our vision? When you say Rumrunners to someone, most people imagine themselves in the tropics on the water having an ice-cold rumrunner. To me it says a lot of things in just one word and it said what we were trying to do in our location. It didn't have to kick around our heads for more than a few seconds and we knew it was perfect and we never looked back."

Article Photos

Rumrunners owners and staff gather together for a group photo.

Carol Orr Hartman

"It was so easy for us to fit into the community when I came to Cape Coral and Cape Coral welcomed us with open arms. Cape Coral is such a big town that it enabled us to make a lot of new friends here."

When you walk into the foyer of Rumrunners, you are instantly drawn by the beautiful waterfront views, tempting you to discover your waterfront dining experience. According to Johnson, "It doesn't hurt when you have dolphins and manatees swimming out back."

The bar runs the length of a room with high top tables for those who come in regularly for a cocktail or want to have a drink before dinner.

Fact Box


waterfront restaurant

5848 Cape Harbour Drive


Open 11:30am-Close

"We have a nice sized drink specialty menu, broken into frozen, martini or after dinner drinks," Johnson said. "We use premium tropical purees or juices with pure juices; we don't use artificial or processed juices. We have several lemonade choices with black raspberry lemonade being a top seller, and our Caramel Apple Martini is a best seller. We offer top shelf brands of after dinner cordials, brandies and port along with the older Scotches."

Johnson continues, "The menu and food is carefully chosen the day before. The raw product coming in the back door is one of the most important things. If a product we want for the menu is not the top percentage that we require, we change the menu. The second most important thing is your staff. We have the lowest turnover rate of staff of any restaurant I know of in the area. Happy staff, great product, beautiful ambiance and location make for a great experience for our customers."

The "Starters menu" offers a wide variety of appetizers, seafood on the rocks and soups and salads. Rumrunners Coconut Shrimp (coconut breaded Gulf shrimp served with a coconut-chili dipping sauce) and Calamari (flash fried squid rings, drizzled with key lime aioli, served with a side of Fra Diablo dipping sauce) are No. 1 sellers. The seafood on the rocks is popular with many. Johnson says the classic fresh shucked oysters on the half shell and the peel-and-eat gulf shrimp "Island Style''are ordered the most. There are three different soups offered each day. There is always their popular French onion soup and each day, two additional soup choices are offered, which are a bisque and a chowder or stew.

Rumrunners stays traditional with its salads. There are five choices with the classic Caesar salad being the top choice. Johnson says they are one of the few restaurants that make their own Caesar dressing like it was made 50 years ago. They have a wonderful spinach and blue cheese salad (baby spinach topped with a warm pecan-caramelized onion and smoked bacon dressing, and garnished with tomato, crouton, gorgonzola cheese and shaved red onion) and brought their famous bistro salad from Bistro 41.

Entrees cover a wide range of choices. In the cuisine section, Johnson says you can't go wrong with comfort food. It is more popular now than it has ever been because people don't have time to cook a lot of it at home.

"If you have a great meatloaf like we do, it sells well because it brings back wonderful family memories."

Another top seller is the Seafood Pot Pie (sauteed gulf pink shrimp, scallops, lump crab meat, diced potato, carrot, celery and onions, simmered in a rich lobster cream sauce topped with flaky pastry). If you are a seafood lover, your mouth starts watering just reading the menu.

"You have to have a few pastas," Johnson said. "We offer all our pasta dishes as half sizes. Homemade seafood sauce and our vegetable broth are made fresh every day. We can also add chicken, shrimp or salmon to that dish if you want it as an entree."

Their top sellers are the Gulf Coast Seafood Pasta (sauteed jumbo shrimp, scallops, mussels, garlic and shallots, simmered in a light seafood broth, tossed with crushed tomatoes, torn basil and angel hair pasta) and the Mediterranean Vegetable Pasta (grilled zucchini, yellow squash and Bermuda onions, roasted artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and feta cheese, tossed with fettuccini pasta).

According to Johnson, even though many people like seafood, their steaks are also a big draw to loyal fans. "We only buy corn belt premium aged prime beef and upper 2/3rds choice. All of our steaks are cut here. The benefit to that is that we are looking at every piece of meat. A lot of restaurants buy precut but we like to have that control. Ralph and I do about 90 percent of the cutting. Our two top sellers are filet mignon and New York strip. Although our beef doesn't change on the menu, the toppings and sides are changed daily. You could come every day and order the same filet but the starch and vegetable and sauce changes daily and you would have a different taste experience."

"Some things that people don't know about us when they come in is that we have a separate menu every day of spotlighted items from all over the country that we have shipped in fresh," Johnson said. "We have two different fish on our specialty menu every day. We use about two-three different food companies to outsource the fish and know our standards, so the quality of fish that comes in is extremely high. I always order the fish the night before for delivery the next to get 10-plus quality. If a fish isn't the quality we want, we will change the menu to feature the quality fish that we can get. The fish is cut at Rumrunners and not pre-cut for maximum freshness.

"We will have three appetizer specials and two-three different desserts. For example, a popular one is our Uptown Lobster Mac and Cheese. I have smoked and pastrami cured our own salmon which took four days for our Smoked pastrami salmon appetizer. Meatball sliders are on a current menu."

Specialty entrees are always an exciting surprise. Examples are Lobster and Sage stuffed Carolina Flounder (served over white wine risotto, steamed asparagus spears and finished with lobster fondue) Colorado Rack of Lamb (marinated in juniper berry, red wine and fresh rosemary, served over goat cheese mashed purple Peruvian potatoes, steamed asparagus spears and zinfandel-fig Demi-Glace).

There is always a wonderful choice of desserts on the specialty menu.

"We have a homemade German Chocolate cheesecake that is very popular. A lot of times we will have Peanut Butter Snickers pie.," Johnson said. "We have the advantage of owning Run Agrounds next door, so we can make all kinds of different gelatos."

"We want people to enjoy the whole experience," he said. "There are a lot of generic waterfront restaurants out there and I would like people to know and understand that there is ownership in the kitchen. We are not a typical waterfront restaurant that throws everything in the fryer and lives on their location. There is always an owner present - we are cutting the steaks, cutting the fish, creating the menu and making sure that the standards are as high as they can possibly be."



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