Why is Chef Gloria Naples Herald’s “Chef of the Month?” That’s easy! While crafting two successful Fort Myers restaurants, Chef Gloria has always generously given back to the community through numerous charity events, including PACE Center for Girls, Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, Radio Daze, and Thanks-A-Lot. She personally trains each chef and staff member. Only Chef Gloria has customers asking to be trained to be rockstar-like servers in her restaurants!
How did Chef Gloria get her start in Fort Myers? Well, she loved dining at her favorite “hole in the wall” 10-seat restaurant in Fort Myers so much that she wanted to buy it. Alas, they sold it to a couple, and she was very disappointed.
A mere two months later, after updating and remodeling it as ‘La Trattoria Cafe Napoli’… they had to put it up for sale. She bought it this time- that’s how it all began back in 2005!
Tucked in an obscure mall with no drive by exposure, and no advertising budget; how could Gloria make her 10-seat restaurant successful? She featured flavorful Spanish and Italian cuisines, added Cuban comfort food from family recipes, and tiny La Trattoria flourished as a “cult” restaurant by word of mouth.
Gloria trained at the Umeå University School of Restaurant and Culinary Arts, and different spots across Europe; she had many European recipes to draw from. Stop by and savor some of her family recipes – many are over 100 years old – that’s when a relative compiled the family cookbook. That cookbook would sell today like tostones, er, hotcakes!
With favorites like the famed veal Calabrese topped with roasted portobello and roasted fontina cheese ($20), or scalopini de pollo Pimontese’s generous chicken filet roasted with garlic, plums and onions over a carrot purée ($19); the combination of wonderful food flavors, select wines from around the world, and wallet-friendly prices attracted customers from Naples to Punta Gorda!
Chef Gloria literally fought City Hall to expanded from 10 to 20 seats, then to 27 seats, and her adoring customers kept the seats filled! Oh, did I mention that this was the first restaurant she had ever owned? Then, at the depth of the economy in 2009, she took a large risk, and expanded next door, adding a bar and restrooms. She maintained the cozy Italian atmosphere accented with Spanish bull fighters and flamenco dancers, and La Trattoria continued to earn top dining reviews.
Seeking a new challenge, she decided to craft a second restaurant, Mermaid Garden Cafe, decorated with soft oceanic greens and pale sea-foam accents, and walls bedecked with pretty plates, teapots and tea cups in what she once described as an endearing “girly-girly” style. Unlike La Trattoria, Mermaid serves only breakfast and lunch-healthy fresh foods that a Mermaid would eat, of course!
She thought that since “mermaids must get sick of eating seaweed and scallops all day…let’s invite them to town for some fresh vegetables and greens – and while we’re at it, why not champagne?” Why not! Her “healthy funky” cuisine encompasses roasted chorizo with organic eggs, beef sirloin with chipotle sauce and golden sultanas, and Spanish roasted pork on a ciabatta roll with watermelon relish.
Her daily challenge to herself; “What will I create for tomorrow?” is answered by “delicious things that no one has ever offered”-each dish features her own creative twist. I bet you’ve never had ahi tuna… with cumin and picadillo sauce; tacos with “mermaid sauce,” or the ever popular chicken salad with jicama, atop sour cream-aioli and toasted corn tortillas!
Some come just for the daily changing great variety of baked goods, with a number of gluten-free choices. Peanut butter-oatmeal balls stuffed with home-made preserves are must-haves, as well as the Brie cheese-stuffed empanadas, and beautifully decorated pies, tarts and beautiful cakes.
What is her secret to double success? That’s easy! She pays staff well, treating them like family, and personally treats each customer as close friends. Her Trattoria chef has been with her for ten years! Gloria creates two to three daily specials at each spot in addition to full menus, so customers always have the next visit to look forward to. The faithful don’t hesitate to drive over 50 miles to have a seat at her famed 5 course dinners with wine. I keep coming back for my faves; pancetta-wrapped gorgonzola-stuffed dates, roasted lamb chops, and crispy sweet churros or banana crepes for dessert.
Don’t be surprised if our Chef of the Month starts yet a third restaurant…I’ll be ahead of you at the start of the line!
IF YOU GO
La Trattoria Cafe Napoli
12377 south Cleveland Ave.
Fort Myers, 239-931-0050
8695 College Parkway
Fort Myers, 239-425-3480
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Photos by Ivan Seligman.