What's in a name? Picking a unique restaurant name can be tricky, but fun

A bartender at Alice Sweetwater's laughs along with a customer at the Naples bar and grill. 
  
 A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

A bartender at Alice Sweetwater's laughs along with a customer at the Naples bar and grill. A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

Any parent will tell you that choosing a name is no easy thing. Many a marital spat has come from one partner insisting on Sarah, while the other remains adamant that Kendra is the way to go.

Naming a business is a similar ordeal, or so you’d think. You want something catchy, something that describes what your business is and something that will come up high in search engine results. Or do you? While we thought having a Google-friendly name was a good idea, places like Sneaky Pete’s and Nervous Nellie’s had us wondering, do we have it all wrong?

“It’s definitely important to consider a variety of branding factors when naming your business,” says Melanie Bocock, president of IntegrityNETworx, a locally-based company that does web design and web marketing. Bocock spends big chunks of her time trying to help business owners get found on the Internet, but she warns that search engine results alone shouldn’t be the sole consideration for your business. “Sure, search could be one of those factors, if for some reason it makes sense to include keyword phrases in your business name. Despite my passion for search though, I have to advise people not to sacrifice other branding priorities just for the sake of search. Search is not the most important consideration for a brand.”

'Alice' swings above customers heads at Alice Sweetwater's. The puppet is made to look like an eccentric aunt, Alice, of the bar's original owners. 
  
 A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

"Alice" swings above customers heads at Alice Sweetwater's. The puppet is made to look like an eccentric aunt, Alice, of the bar's original owners. A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

Bocock adds that, although making her business name her home phone number might make sense in that people would always know the number to call, it would be a terrible decision from a branding standpoint.

But what about offbeat names like IIWII Bar and Grill and Hoots? Are weird names good for business? Judging by the full parking lots and scarce empty stools at many of these joints on a recent Friday night, the answer just may be “yes.” Perhaps best of all, these off-kilter monikers invariably come from great stories, which patrons inevitably ask about.

“Oh we get asked about our name all the time,” says Dean Meyers, owner of IIWII Bar and Grill in Naples. But he’s OK with that, saying that patrons always feel like they’ve been let in on a secret once they know. So here it is, we’re spilling the secrets on how a few of your favorite places got their names.

NAPLES

Alice Sweetwater’s Bar and Grill

According to Mary Beth Atwell, the general manager at this beloved bar and grill, sweetwater was an early term used to describe a place with good food — and more importantly — good drinks.

“The original owners named the place after their great eccentric aunt,” says Atwell. “And there are things of Alice’s here in the restaurant, we’ve got shells hanging from the ceiling and we even have Alice swinging on a swing.”

Atwell says that, like the good food and good drinks that have always been a fixture at the 25-year-old restaurant, the name is a fixture that will never, ever, change.

Alice Sweetwater’s Bar and Grill, 1996 Airport-Pulling Road S., Naples. (239) 793-3700

Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro

If you think the bha bha in this Persian Bistro’s name is a play on the fact that it serve a lots of lamb, you’re wrong.

“Bha is a play on a Farsi word,” says Miguel Martinez, operation’s manager and partner at the local Persian eatery. “The owner is Persian and in Farsi ‘bha’ is an expression of delight. So it’s like, yum, yum!”

Martinez says that he doesn’t mind the confusion with diners thinking the name has to do with all the lamb on the menu. “It’s great because it’s kind of this double entendre with all the lamb on our menu.”

Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro, 865 Fifth Avenue South, Naples. 239-594-5557.

IIWII Bar and Grille

IIWII is actually an acronym, standing for “it is what it is,” the phrase that editors and high school English teachers everywhere love to hate. It’s pronounced EEE-WEE (rhyming with kiwi) and it’s what the owners thought when they saw the bar’s location for the first time.

'It Is What It Is,' or just IIWII, is what the owners of the uniquely-named restaurant came up with when they first saw the location. 
  
 A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

"It Is What It Is," or just IIWII, is what the owners of the uniquely-named restaurant came up with when they first saw the location. A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

The name of IIWII may make one think it would look somewhat drab, but the restaurant is actually very colorful and inviting. 
  
 A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

The name of IIWII may make one think it would look somewhat drab, but the restaurant is actually very colorful and inviting. A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

Don and Tamera Meyers had been looking for an awesome, beachfront venue for their new joint for several months. They wanted to create a new eatery that matched their favorite spot in the Bahamas, but nothing they found was quite right. They waited and waited, eying anything that opened up along the Gulf. Nothing worked.

“So we looked at a place on a lake and we thought, ‘What if we trucked in sand and made it like a beach?’” says Dean Meyers. So they did. Ask Meyers how to describe his location and he’ll say, “It is what it is.” And that’s how IIWII Bar and Grille and IIWII Beach, the area on the lake in front of the bar where the Meyers trucked in several truckloads of sand — got its name.

IIWII Bar and Grille, 13510 U.S. 41 North, Naples. 239-596-5731.

I.M. Tapas Spanish Resto Bar

When owners Isabel Pozo Polo and Mary Shipman opened I.M. Tapas, many in Naples weren’t even sure what tapas were. “A lot of people didn’t know about Tapas but we wanted to have tapas in the name for search reasons,” says co-owner Shipman. Coming up with the rest of the name was easy. Each partner donated an initial, with Isabel’s initial being listed first since she’s also the head chef.

The interior at I.M. Tapas has a very homey feel and looks quite Spanish, which is intentional since 'tapas' are small appetizer-like dishes made famous in Spain. 
  
 A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

The interior at I.M. Tapas has a very homey feel and looks quite Spanish, which is intentional since "tapas" are small appetizer-like dishes made famous in Spain. A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

A waiter smiles as he waits to see if a customer approves of the wine he brought to her table at I.M Tapas. 
  
 A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

A waiter smiles as he waits to see if a customer approves of the wine he brought to her table at I.M Tapas. A.C. Shilton/Citizen Correspondent

“People sometimes get it wrong, they’ll pronounce it Im (rhymes with hymn) Tapas, or something like that, but putting Isabel’s initial first was always our plan,” says Shipman.

I.M. Tapas Spanish Resto Bar, 965 4th Ave. North, Naples. 239-403-8272.

CGrape Chef

When Andrew Harkness and Mai Nguyen were trying to name their new coffee and wine bar, they wanted something that represented both of the products the establishment was going to offer. With grapes being their prime product, that came first, but then they added a C (for coffee) to the front.

“As you probably know, the sea grape is an indigenous plant in Southwest Florida,” says co-owner Harkness, adding that the couple liked the play on words.

Over time the coffee and wine shop evolved, selling more and more food items. Harkness and Nguyen wanted the name to reflect the wider menu.

“We changed the name to CGrape Chef when we started doing new food. It was a new company but of course our customers knew us from CGrape,” says Harkness. He adds, “People like CGrape, at the beginning we took a couple of names down to Sneaky Pete’s and tried them out with people there; people liked CGrape.”

CGrape Chef, 975 Imperial Golf Course Blvd., Naples. (239) 596-4303.

BONITA SPRINGS

Buffalo Chips

Chip Greewood, the general manager and namesake of this Bonita landmark, says that he isn’t thrilled with the restaurant being named after poop, but he would never dream of changing the name. “I didn’t want to be named after poo, but I guess I’m okay with it,” he jokes. His father, the “Wing King” Al Greenwood named the restaurant 30 years ago, at the prompting of his then wife. “She wanted him to name the restaurant Buffalo Chips, after me,” says the younger Greenwood. The name stuck and 20 years later, Southwest Floridians come from all over to chow down on Buffalo Chips’ iconic chicken wings.

People got used to it and now it’s like Jell-O. You don’t call it fruit-flavored gelatin, you call it Jell-O. It’s a brand name now,” says Chip Greenwood.

But mostly, people are just calling it delicious. This year the restaurant projects that it will sell more than 10,000 chicken wings during the Super Bowl alone and Greenwood says that they are one of the largest buyers of chicken wings in the entire state. Not bad for a place that’s named for something arguably less delicious.

Buffalo Chips, 22620 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs. 239-947-1000

Survey Cafe

Once upon a time, a group of surveyors mapping out Southwest Florida camped by the side of a river. As adventurous men so often seem to like to do, they named the area after themselves, and the town of Survey — on the Survey River — was established. Of course, early residents soon realized that Survey wasn’t the greatest of names for attracting tourists and the town was later rechristened Bonita Springs.

A restored 1940s home is the home of Survey Cafe, owned by Ben and Lori Nelson, and the last stop on a historic tour of homes in Bonita Springs, Sunday, Feb. 20.

Photo by Liane Edixon

A restored 1940s home is the home of Survey Cafe, owned by Ben and Lori Nelson, and the last stop on a historic tour of homes in Bonita Springs, Sunday, Feb. 20.

“Because we are in a historic building, we were trying to tie in some history of Bonita,” explains Survey Cafe's former owner, Lori Nelson. She adds, “We learned quickly that we were going to get a lot of questions about it, so there is a small narrative on our menu.” Despite the questions, Nelson and her husband, Bill Nelson (who also happens to be the town’s mayor) recently sold the business, but they never planned on changing the cafe’s name, saying, “I have not ever, nor do I think I will, thought about changing the name... It fits the area, it educates some customers a little about our history, and it’s very well known as the Survey Cafe.”

Survey Cafe, 10530 Wilson St., Bonita Springs. 239-992-2233.

Mama Redneck’s Delivery and Takeout Restaurant

Sara Sangermano is Mama Redneck.

“I do get called Mama Redneck sometimes, but more often customers call me Mama,” says Sangermano, who opened Mama Redneck with her husband, Paul Sangermano, last year.

Sara says that her husband used to jokingly call her a redneck when they were dating, because she was from North Carolina and had a bit of a twang in her accent. “I had two girls so he’d make the occasional joke and call me ‘Mama Redneck.’ When we were tossing around names for our restaurant, we jokingly put it out there and then we kept coming back to it.”

And even though she has to deal with being called Mama Redneck every day, Sangermano says she’d never change the name. “It’s perfect for our business, it’s a family business and we serve Southern-style soul food, so it works.”

Mama Redneck’s Delivery and Takeout Restaurant, 2155 Andrea Lane, Unit C-8, Fort Myers. (239) 225-7997.

Nervous Nellie’s Crazy Waterfront Eatery

Nope, Nellie isn’t a crazy bartender or an offbeat relative. Instead, he’s a pelican.

Before the wacky waterfront restaurant was open, the owners were scoping out their new joint and trying to figure out what to name it. They stepped onto a back patio where a pelican had just caught a fish.

“He was sitting on a piling and the fish was too big for him to eat it in one gulp,” remembers Rob Degennaro, the restaurant’s owner. “There was an osprey watching and he was jiving left and jiving right trying to figure out what to do with this fish. He looked like a nervous Nellie.”

Degennaro says that they instantly had a name for their new place. Incidentally, the bar that occupies the upstairs of the restaurant is called Ugly’s based on a grouper and the fact that, with happy hour running all day, everyone in the bar inevitably becomes prettier.

Nervous Nellie’s Crazy Waterfront Eatery, 1131 First St., Fort Myers Beach, 239-463-8077

Sneaky Pete’s

Sneaky Pete’s is actually named after a cocktail (The Sneaky Pete), which is actually named after a bartender (Pete). It was the late 70s and Pete Walker — who now co-owns the Bonita Sneaky Pete’s — was a bartender on Key Biscayne.

“People would always come in and say, ‘just make me something,’ but I never liked to do that,” says Walker, explaining that, inevitably the drink would be too sweet or too potent for the client’s palate. “One day this regular came in and said, ‘make me something,’ and I asked her for some guidelines and I made her a tropical-type drink. She liked it and she had a couple more. Then the next day she came back and said, ‘those went down so smooth; it was very pleasant but it sneaks up on you,’ and that’s how the Sneaky Pete was born.”

Thirty years later, when Pete and his wife, Joan, and two other friends with whom Pete had worked on Key Biscayne, decided to open a bar in Bonita Springs, the name Sneaky Pete’s just seemed right. To this day, the local bar and restaurant sells tons of the now infamous cocktail.

Sneaky Pete’s, 3465 Bonita Beach Road #20, Bonita Springs, 239-498-8887

MARCO ISLAND

Little Bar Restaurant

Once upon a time, this favorite neighborhood watering hole was exactly what its name describes: a very little bar. Connected to the Goodland Cash Market, the bar — which is an antique back bar from Cicero, Illinois — was just a tiny local joint. Today it’s a bit bigger, the current owners converted the rest of the original Cash Market to make seating space for the restaurant, but one thing remains the same: the size of the bar.

“It’s still a tiny bar. We’ve changed where the bar is in the room to make more space for tables, but it’s the same bar,” says Ray Bozicnik.

Little Bar, 205 Harbor Drive, Goodland on Marco Island, 239-394-5663

NeNe’s Kitchen

This family favorite is neither named after the Nene River in England, nor after the endangered Hawaiian nene goose. Instead, it’s named after the owners’ beloved grandmother, who, until recently, was a regular at the family owned and operated establishment.

“Her kids all called her NeNe and she’s always been a big part of the family,” says owner Bob Natale. He adds, “She’s 98 now, so she doesn’t come in much anymore, but people love that it’s named for her. We’re a very family oriented place, so it fits.”

NeNe’s Kitchen, 297 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island. 239-394-3854.

Marco Polo Restaurant

Tom Naifeh, the current managing partner at Marco Polo isn’t actually quite sure how the upscale, supper club-style eatery got its name.

“Well the original owner christened it in 1986,” he says, adding, “And he was of Italian descent, so maybe that was part of its inspiration.”

Perhaps his Italian heritage plus the restaurant’s location on Marco Island prompted the name. But wherever it came from, patrons seem less concerned with the restaurant’s history and more concerned with the fabulous steaks, pastas and seafood — often finished tableside — bound for their bellies. Naifeh says that they rarely get questions about the name and that, even if they did, they wouldn’t ever think about changing it.

Marco Polo Restaurant, 20 Marco Lake Drive, Marco Island. (239) 394-5777.

Stilts Bar and Grill

This restaurant is on stilts, so you’d think that would be where the name came from, but it’s actually not. Server Jeanine David says that the restaurant is actually named after the long-legged beach birds that star in the restaurant’s logo. “Yes we’re on stilts but our logo is the bird that looks like it’s on stilts and our name comes from the bird, not the restaurant,” she says. Either way, diners have an absolutely prime view of the little leggy shorebirds to the restaurant’s elevated status, making it one of the best places to catch a sunset on Marco.

Stilts, 600 S. Collier Blvd., Marco. 239-393-6790.

Sale e Pepe

Named for the two essential ingredients in almost any good Italian dish, sale e pepe means salt and pepper in Italian, the native tongue of this restaurant’s executive chef. Born and raised in Napoli, Italy, where he spent much of his formative years working in his parent’s restaurant, Giuliano Matarese has been sprinkling the two seasonings into dishes since he was a tiny child. When it came to naming the upscale Italian eatery in the Marco Beach Ocean Resort, paying homage to the two ingredients he’s worked with for so long just made sense.

Sale e Pepe, 480 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island. 239-393-1400.

© 2013 gonaples.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Sessions