Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille owner Marty Harrity is all smiles Thursday, Sept. 8, opening night at the new location across from Bailey's at Island Inn Road and Tarpon Bay Road. (Below) The second floor was as busy as the main floor. (Below right) Patrons enjoy mojitos. (Bottom left) Doc Ford’s Chef Philip Schroeder, with general manager Kim McGonnell. SC photos by Jan Holly
Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille owner Marty Harrity is all smiles Thursday, Sept. 8, opening night at the new location across from Bailey's at Island Inn Road and Tarpon Bay Road. (Below) The second floor was as busy as the main floor. (Below right) Patrons enjoy mojitos. (Bottom left) Doc Ford’s Chef Philip Schroeder, with general manager Kim McGonnell. SC photos by Jan Holly

The entire town has turned out for the celebration,” exclaimed one loyal customer. Another remarked, “I hoped for a big crowd, but this really exceeded expectations.”

The occasion was the biggest Island party of the summer, hosted Thursday, Sept. 8, by Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille, to celebrate its grand reopening on Tarpon Bay Road. Revelers by the hundreds gathered stem to stern in the newly relocated restaurant’s main dining room and upstairs lounge, to enjoy the two-hour open house.

We weren’t expecting such a huge group,” said Kim McGonnell, Doc Ford’s general manager, “but we are prepared for all eventualities, so we will keep everyone’s plates filled.”

The fare for the evening’s festivities included samplings of the kitchen’s most popular specialty items. Attendees enjoyed Yucatan shrimp, deep-water mahi-mahi, chicken tostados, quinoa salad, “and our famous flat breads, plus all you can drink—compliments of the house. We have a wonderfully loyal clientele,” McGonnell said. “We are delighted to throw this party for them, as we open for business in our new home.”

McGonnell noted that the transition from the restaurant’s Rabbit Road location to its new and improved digs was a challenge. “We had to split our crew, training in the new facility, while keeping the old restaurant running. But it all worked out, and we are really happy with the result.”

McGonnell pointed to some of the new restaurant’s enhancements. “We added 10 more seats to the bar in the main dining room,” she said, “and behind the bar is exposed wood cabinetry—to show off our amazing rum collection.”

The restaurant’s interior woodworking is entirely recycled, including the bar top, the walls and the booths. “The interior walls are reclaimed barn siding,” McGonnell said, “and our roofing is reclaimed tin.”

A veranda, which encircles the building, has drop-down screens that protect from the elements, “so our customers can enjoy this comfortable outdoor space, rain or shine,” McGonnell said.

The restaurant’s new kitchen is double in size, giving new head chef Philip Schroeder plenty of room to work his wonders. “Philip has a special flair for food,” McGonnell said. “Our menu hasn’t changed as yet, but he is creative with our specials, and he has an amazing eye for ingredients. We prepare everything from scratch, soups, stocks, desserts—and we filet on site.”

According to McGonnell, the newly resized restaurant will require more staff. “We expect to hire 10 new servers and at least 10 line cooks and dish washers.”

One beautiful addition at the new location is an aquarium, which separates the restaurant’s entryway from the main dining room. The 375-gallon saltwater tank holds nine different species of exotic fish, “and one starfish,” McGonnell said.

Attendee Ellen Sloan, rector at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church and a Doc Ford’s customer for the past eight years, especially appreciates the new structure’s spaciousness. “It’s roomy and welcoming, and it was clearly designed for socializing,” she said.

Lori and Scott McDonald, longtime Doc Ford’s patrons, echoed Sloan’s comments about the restaurant’s hospitable interior. “It has a casually elegant ambiance,” Lori said. Lori’s favorite Doc Ford’s entrée is the ahi tuna, and Scott loves the Cuban sandwich.

Attendee Ralph Clark praised the restaurant’s efforts at sustainable construction. “I admire their insistence on using recycled building materials—and I love their roasted chicken!”

Clark’s wife Carolyn remarked on the beauty of the décor and its customer-friendly atmosphere. “Doc Ford’s is part of the Island spirit,” she said.

Doc Ford’s proprietor Marty Harrity, the open house’s greeter-in-chief, called the success of the relocation “a testament to the hard work of our wonderful staff. Everyone labored intensively on the transition,” Harrity said. “We are happy to be open at last and to have a permanent home for our restaurant in the heart of the community that we love. We are looking forward to serving Islanders for at least 50 years to come!”

The new Doc Ford's packed the patrons in on opening night, Thursday, Sept. 8. (Below) St. Michael's Rector Ellen Sloan, left; Scott and Lori McDonald, bottom left, and Ralph and Carolyn Clark were among the many patrons. SC photo by Jan Holly