It’s been a busy week for Kevin and Max Doyle, the father and son team who own and operate The Celtic Ray Public House in downtown Punta Gorda. News spread this week when Kevin Doyle mentioned he was planning to build a hotel, brewery and English pub across the street from Celtic Ray.
The Ray, as it’s known to patrons, is an Irish pub that’s been a favorite destination of locals and visitors since it opened in 1997.
Since then, the pub has grown from a tiny, indoor space on the corner of Marion Avenue and Nesbit Street to a multilevel complex spanning several storefronts with a large outdoor patio dining area, bar and rooftop dining.
On Tuesday, the Doyles explained how they arrived at their decision to build the project.
Kevin Doyle speculated that not all convention and conference attendees at Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor will want to stay at the same place where they’re working. He said the permanent closing of the Punta Gorda Waterfront Hotel and Suites following damage from Hurricane Ian left the city with a hotel-room deficit of 187.
“The city has been deprived of a brewery since Fat Point [Brewing Co.] left,” Max Doyle added.
The Doyles were asked about opening another pub across from Celtic Ray. The two pubs will be quite different in both themes and menu items except for their famous fish and chips, which will be served at both places.
“The [English] pub will be called Slug and Whippet, like the dog,” Max Doyle explained.
Kevin Doyle said the name parallels the tortoise and the hare—slow and fast. He explained the literacy rate in England centuries ago wasn’t very high, and pubs, such as The King’s Head, The Three Stags and The Rose & Crown, hung signs with images instead of words. Their new pub might likely have an image of a slug and a dog, if they follow that tradition.
What has brought so much success to Celtic Ray is the Doyles’ sense of what the public wants. And what it craves on the menu is fish and chips.
It helps that Kevin Doyle grew up having the best fish and chips in Manchester, England, he said. People travel far and wide to order what has become The Ray’s signature dish.
Kevin Doyle is Irish and Max Doyle’s mother is English, which is why the Doyles are very familiar with the pub foods of both cultures.
Kevin Doyle recalled going to the famous Tommy Thompson’s Fish & Chips decades ago with his mother. He said he mimicked Thompson’s recipe and spent many months replicating the taste he remembered.
What sets the Celtic Ray’s fish and chips apart from other recipes is using Icelandic cod. Also, the batter, vinegar and potatoes are essential to the taste.
Groundbreaking for the six-story hotel is expected to take place after March 2024, a big month for The Ray. Nesbit Street closes on St. Patrick’s Day when the pub hosts a huge party with dancing and revelry occurring all along the street and places nearby.
During the height of the pandemic, the pub was one of only two places in the U.S. that hosted a large St. Patrick’s Day gathering. At the time Florida allowed outdoor gatherings.
Within about two years, the vacant land across from The Ray will be bustling with activity. The brewery will be on the ground floor of the site, where people can view the brewing process.
The Doyles have come a long way from when Hurricane Charley destroyed the pub in 2004.
“We nearly lost it,” Kevin Doyle said. “We had no insurance.”
Support from the community, devoted patrons and the sheer will of the Doyles propelled them to a comeback.
“The Doyle gene kicked in–we never give up, and we never regret anything,” Kevin Doyle said.
Celtic Ray, 145 E. Marion Ave., is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily with the kitchen closing at midnight.