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Matanzas on the Bay stays on the mark
January 1, 2020

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Owning a business for 35 years is a rare feat. To make it in the restaurant business that long is particularly tough. For Matanzas on the Bay owners Dennis and Christy Speirn-Smith, they have hit the jackpot combination of good location, quality food, loyal workers and customers.

For Mr. Smith and General Manager Tony Coppolino, their outlook on the restaurant's success is pretty straightforward. They know the establishment's location on Crescent Street overlooking Matanzas Pass is not as easy to find as some other spots on Fort Myers Beach, but history has proven that once their customers find them they will return. "Once people find us, they will come back all the time," Coppolino said.

Between the view and the reputation of their food, it's no wonder they have won the Fort Myers Beach Observer's Best of the Beach award two straight years for best waterfront dining.

That's a tough category to win in with the kind of competition they face, but Smith and his staff have had the time to learn what it takes to be a top-level establishment with a menu that fits the appetite of their customers.

With a new year in 2020, the business will kick off its 36th year in a spot overlooking the water where up to 14 boats can dock if they are dining at Matanzas on the Bay or staying at Matanzas Inn.

Smith first purchased the properties in 1984 as part of an investment group. In 2012, he and his wife took over the ownership. Smith, is also a real estate developer and owner of Pierside Grill.

Matanzas on the Bay succeeds in a lot of ways. There is the hotel next door which has undergone renovations. The docking for boats makes the restaurant extra attractive for those looking to pull up for a meal after going out on the water. Outside the inn is seating for a reception area that can be used for private events and weddings. Folks staying at the motel can just relax outside and get a great view of the water.

There is the restaurant on the first floor but there is also the upstairs dining area, known as "Petey's Upper Deck" which opens later in the afternoon during the week and is open during the same hours as the restaurant (11-10) on the weekends. Those dining upstairs get the same choices as downstairs except there is also the choice of such items as pizza and wings, along with live entertainment seven days a week. "A lot of locals will go up there every day," Coppolino said.

The pizza, known as "Dave's Dockside Pizza," is popular enough that when the original location was torn down for condos, the Matanzas on the Bay owners just brought it under their own umbrella. It helped that the chef for Matanzas on the Bay Dave Chetwin also was responsible for the ingredients of Dave's Dockside Pizza as well as being the chef for Pierside Grill. Chetwin has been with Matanzas on the Bay since its inception. The pizza as well as other food items is prepared across the street from Matanzas on the Bay. "We're known for our pizza. People come from all around to get it," Coppolino said.

Coppolino is entering his fourth year at the restaurant after a previous background with such corporate eateries as Olive Garden and Planet Hollywood. Coppolino says the crunchy grouper topped with orange sauce is the restaurant's most popular dish.

"We do a lot of fresh seafood: gulf shrimp, mahi-mahi, snapper, scallops," he said. Chetwin will occasionally tweak the menu and will gather input from guests and staff members when he introduces something new. Their most recent addition is the mango pico topping, he said. Red snapper was also added to the menu recently.

Coppolino and Smith said one of the keys to their success is the loyalty of its workforce. Matanzas on the Bay employs more than 60 workers. Smith said more than a dozen of them have been with the company 20 years or more. "We have a great team," Smith said. "We could not be in that business without the kind of team we have.

"The location has always been a little bit of a challenge because a lot of people don't know we're there," Smith said. "Once they are there, they tend to come back."

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