(By GiGi Barse) On Sept. 24, 2022, I said a quick goodbye to my GM at Charley’s Boat House before I left for a week-long vacation. “I’m sure you’ll get along fine without me next week,” I laughed. “Besides, you might even have a few days off if that storm comes close.” That would be the last time I worked at this iconic Fort Myers Beach eatery.
Once we determined our condo was okay, once we applied for unemployment benefits, once we thanked God we fared so much better than so many, the reality of our new reality hit hard. Friends who once lived on the beach and walked the sidewalks to any number of favorite bars and restaurants, were now living in Estero, Bonita Springs, and Naples, battling traffic jams and uncertainty at every turn.
Many of these friends had worked on the beach at one location for 14, 16 even 19 years—something virtually unheard of in the hospitality industry. Their loyalty and connectedness to the various bars and restaurants was more than part of their jobs. It was a huge part of them.
Thus began the Band-Aid jobs. Some lasted a few weeks. Some only a few days. I personally lasted three hours at one such Band-Aid place. All we wanted was to go back to the work we knew. And all we did was move on from one unfamiliar POS system to another new menu.
But as several beach restaurants opened, familiar folks returned. Others found a new togetherness off island at various eateries. New staff combinations sometimes meant a band was back together as a Band-Aid was finally ripped off. For others, it mean much-needed camaraderie for whatever time remained until their former workplaces reopened.
Charley’s Boat House is no more, and it’s return is iffy at best, given the sale of the property. After a couple of hiccups, however, I’ve landed at what may be my healing spot—Bonita Bill’s. It’s crazy busy and hours are long. But the supportive staff, management and ownership have welcomed me into their tight-knit work community, and I cannot be more grateful.
For me, and what I wish for so many more in the near future, the next phase after Ian is beginning to be bathed in FMB sunshine and hope.
GiGi can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com