John Mann and Mat Baum met a few years ago as their children were playing on the same youth sports team.
Their friendship evolved into a business partnership. Their first collaboration, Backyard Social, opens for the first time at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at 16371 Corporate Commerce Way in south Fort Myers, just off Ben Hill Griffin Road and north of Alico Road. They purchased the land for $1.1 million in November 2021.
Backyard Social combines nine businesses into one spot. The business of Backyard Social employs about 50 people and features games, including duckpin bowling, steel-tip darts, shuffleboard and more. There’s a full bar with 10 big-screen TVs and a Love Boat Ice Cream bar.
Backyard Social is a 9,000-square-foot open air complex with a roof covering it and large ceiling fans.
Eight food trucks, each with a different concept and styles of food, will be parallel parked under the edges of the structure for customers, who can order without standing in line by using a QR Code from their tables.
The Great Foodini’s Seafood, Arepa Express (Venezuelan), No Manches! (tacos, bao and flautas), Gigi’s Gourmet (burgers, cheesesteaks and grilled cheese sandwiches), Gyros2Go (Greek street food), Beau’s BBQ, Easy Cheesy (macaroni and cheese) and Addison’s on the Go (chicken) will be the eight food trucks launching at Backyard Social with each employing its workers at the site, creating about 100 new jobs.
“It’s awesome for us, because each one of them has a huge desire to make sure they’re giving you the best products, the best service,” said Baum, a Cypress Lake High School graduate who has been in the restaurant business for about 15 years. “And then we can focus on things, like obviously the bar, but also the gaming aspect and the facility. I think it’s a win for the consumer.”
Baum’s restaurant background and Mann’s business background made for a unique partnership, they said. Mann owned aerospace manufacturing company Rem-Tronics, which made electromagnetic coils, and sold it in 2019. Thereafter, he began planning a new business endeavor, which led him to working with Baum on Backyard Social.
They hired artist Ruben Ubiera to paint murals throughout the complex, including in the men’s and women’s restrooms, which integrates a pair of mirrors above the sinks into the artwork.
“The artwork’s amazing,” Mann said. “It’s different for this town. There’s really nothing like it in Southwest Florida. And Ruben Ubiera has done all this. Everything walks through and tells a story. With each mural. It’s just amazing what he’s done. You can see the scale of this. And again, this is something that’s usually in big cities, but it’s really new to this area.”
Backyard Social will be selling reusable pint cups with 10% of the profits being donated to Captains For Clean Water, a Fort Myers nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause of keeping the area’s groundwater clean. The sustainable cups also will give customers a 10% discount on future drink purchases.
Backyard Social hosted two soft launch evenings prior to the scheduled grand opening Thursday.
Mann and Baum traveled throughout the state, looking at different food truck park concepts, including Celebration Park in Naples.
“We took the best of everything and combined it all into this,” Mann said of Backyard Social. “I’m super excited. We’re ready to go.”