Q: Is Aurelio’s Pizza moving to Coastland Center mall, and, if so, do you know when?
— Sue L., Naples
A: Aurelio’s Pizza is planning to open during the week of Dec. 3, in time to provide a culinary respite to holiday shoppers at Coastland Center.
But when Aurelio’s opens in the former location of Ted’s Montana Grill and Pate’s House of Prime Rib at the mall, the franchise is not exactly moving. Naples is Seconds City when it comes to Second City cuisine. The future and former Aurelio’s pizzerias have found a way to co-exist in Naples just one mile apart from each other.
Aurelio’s at the mall is a new franchise of the Chicago chain being opened by a new franchisee in Naples. This marks the return of Aurelio’s to the local market.
After hosting an Aurelio’s franchise for more than 15 years, Collier County has been without the popular pizzeria since June 19. That’s the date longtime franchisees John and Nancy Stewart severed ties with the chain and created their own Chicago-influenced restaurant — Sweet Home Chicago Pub & Grub — in the same local location on U.S. 41.
The change didn’t sit well with Aurelio’s Is Pizza Franchise Inc. The Chicago restaurant company immediately sued the Stewarts, choosing to enforce the non-compete clause the couple had signed as part of their franchise agreement. The non-compete clause prevented the former franchisees from operating a pizzeria for two years within five miles of the downtown location.
In August, attorneys for both parties came to an agreement and the case was settled. A permanent injunction outlines stipulations for the Stewarts, licensed under the name JNJC-Food Inc., until June 18, 2014, the date the non-compete clause ends.
When Sweet Home Chicago Pub & Grub opened June 23, two pages of pizza selections, both Chicago thin-crust and deep-dish options, made up nearly half of the restaurant’s menu. Since then, the pizza options have been scaled back considerably and can be no more than 15 percent of the menu, per the written order.
“We certainly would have preferred a different outcome, obviously, but it gives us an opportunity to do something with our menu that we didn’t do before,” John Stewart said.
Aurelio’s and JNJC agreed not to defame or disparage each other or each other’s products. Until June 2014, Sweet Home Chicago also cannot:
■ Refer to its restaurant as a “pizzeria” or “pizzeria restaurant.”
■ Cut its pizza into any shape other than triangular, pie-shaped. In other words, cutting pizza into traditional Chicago squares is prohibited.
■ Sell any specialty pizzas or list any specialty pizzas on its menu. The restaurant may provide only a list of possible ingredients for its pizzas, but not required ingredient combinations.
■ Sell and list pizzas on the main portion of its menu that are any sizes other than 12 inches and 16 inches. However, 7-inch pizzas may be sold on the kid’s menu portion, and 9-inch gluten-free and 10inch deep-dish pizzas also may be sold.
■ Use or disseminate Aurelio’s recipes for pizza sauce, dough, Italian salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and meatballs, or claim it uses these recipes.
After the agreement, Stewart said he is pleased with the way business is going at Sweet Home Chicago. The old venue has added new salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes.
“We’ve been able to do some creative things which have been in our best interest, and come up with a whole new restaurant, and still operate the restaurant with a Chicago theme, which has a lot of interest down here,” he said.
Of course, the Aurelio’s corporation is well aware of the Chicago interest here. Transplants and visitors made the original Aurelio’s location in Naples one of the top performers of the chain’s more than 40 locations, most of which are in the Chicago area.
Although it is franchised by the same Aurelio’s company, the new mall restaurant has nothing to do with this summer’s legal showdown. The new local franchise operators are father and son Ross and Andrew Barnard, who have operated an Aurelio’s franchise in LaGrange, Ill., for many years.
In addition to a larger venue, the new Aurelio’s now will deliver and have more parking. The new Aurelio’s even took over the old location’s telephone number.
“The phone is ringing off the hook,” Ross Barnard said. “I could have booked 20 parties here already.”
■ Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro opened in its new location Nov. 5 on Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples. Before closing in April, Bha! Bha! operated in The Pavilion shopping center in North Naples for 15 years.
“We’re opened and ready,” said Michael Mir, the owner and executive chef. He said the restaurant initially had a soft opening with only a portion of its menu until Saturday.
The new Bha! Bha! at 865 Fifth Ave. S. includes a full bar, outdoor dining and about 95 percent of the old menu, Mir said. The restaurant is open for dinner every day from 5 to 10 p.m.
Information: 239-594-5557; www.bhabhabistro.com
■ Parmesan Pete’s Italian Kitchen recently relocated to North Naples during the first week of November after operating for about two years in Bonita Springs. The new location opened for dinner Saturday and Sunday, and first added lunch to the lineup on Monday. Chef-owner Peter Della Rocca closed his original location on Bonita Beach Road to move into the former location of Anthony’s Trattoria in Fountain Park, 7935 Airport- Pulling Road, on the southwest corner of Vanderbilt Beach Road.
Parmesan Pete’s is open every day, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, and 4:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner. 239-992-3663.
■ Pollo Tropical, best known for its marinated and grilled chicken, is preparing to open a new location next year in Gulf Coast Town Center. The Miami-based restaurant chain recently purchased an undeveloped outparcel next to McDonald’s at the regional mall for $1 million, Lee County property records show.
Pollo Tropical’s new location probably won’t open until the summer or fall of 2013, said Ashleigh Henry, a spokeswoman for Gulf Coast Town Center.
There’s an "Everglades Pizza" — topped with swamp cabbage, frog legs, alligator sausage, and even python — in Fort Myers, but are there other unusual pies in other Southwest Florida pizzerias?
What’s the most unusual pizza or pizza topping you’ve seen on a menu here?
Tell us about it. We’re doing a story on unique pizzas and pizza toppings and would like to hear where they’re being served in Southwest Florida. Please send us:
■ your description of the pizza and the name, if it has one
■ whether you actually tried it
■ your name and the city from which you’re writing
Email your observations to email@example.com. Place in the subject line the words "Unusual pizza."
We’ll print the results in a future Wednesday edition of Neapolitan.
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"In the Know" is published Mondays and Wednesdays in the Naples Daily News. Find a complete archive of "In the Know" columns at naplesnews.com/intheknow.