Launched on Halloween in 2003, Foxboro Sports Tavern in East Naples is celebrating its 20th anniversary, surviving some real scares over the years.
“I can’t believe we made it through all these hurricanes, COVID and every other gosh darn thing,” said Foxboro owner Thom Popoli. “We were certainly blessed.”
Named after the New England Patriots’ hometown of Foxborough, Massachusetts, because of the Popoli family’s New England roots, Foxboro is known for its fan support of Boston-based sports. Popoli launched the local hangout at the perfect time, benefiting from a boost during a winning streak by the professional teams in Boston, dubbed the “City of Champions.”
The Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2014, 2016 and 2018. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018. The Boston Celtics clinched the NBA title in 2008 and the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
“We got really lucky,” Popoli said. “Thank God we opened up with more than we could ever handle. Frankly, it’s been that way every day ever since.”
Upon entering Foxboro, there’s no doubt that it’s a sports bar—a colorful business that does more than just install scores of TV screens. Sports memorabilia, such as posters, pennants and jerseys hang on the walls and from the ceiling of the 4,800-square-foot bar in the Publix-anchored Shoppes at Hammock Cove off U.S. 41 East at 4420 Thomasson Drive.
Despite the draw for national and college teams, Foxboro also is a beloved community-focused destination. Foxboro has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Lely High School, where Popoli has coached football and wrestling over the years and catered pre-game meals for the football team for free.
Foxboro’s scratch menu features the expected lineup of wings, appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and ribs, but it goes well beyond the usual with comfort food entrees, such as shepherd’s pie, meatloaf, pot roast, pork chops, stroganoff and fish and chips. Lobster rolls, shrimp tacos, chili and chowder are popular, too.
Popoli’s hospitality career started in the 1980s at a Cape Coral pizzeria before the Cape Coral High School graduate moved to Naples in 1992 to manage the former Club Oasis in Naples.
“I’ve been a bartender since I was 18, 19. This is all I really know how to do with any real level of expertise,” said Popoli. “I used to be a really fun-loving, happy-go-lucky bartender.”
But Popoli didn’t expect the effect that Foxboro’s guests would have on him or the impact that Foxboro would have on his guests. In many ways, Foxboro follows the lead of what is, perhaps, the most famous Boston bar—the fictional Cheers—where everybody knows your name.
Foxboro’s former regular guests are even memorialized with their names on the bar because their family appreciated the impact Foxboro had on their loved ones. “It’s incredible,” Popoli said.
Regular bar patrons are recognized with Foxboro’s “Ring of Honor,” a designation that shows the bar’s appreciation of its regulars. “It’s family. We’re a family place,” Popoli said.
Those patrons will be honored this weekend as part of the bar’s anniversary celebration. The entertainment schedule for the 20th anniversary party this weekend includes live music by The 4:20 Brothers rock band Friday night, the Deep Cover band Saturday night and Foxboro’s “Ring of Honor” celebration Sunday night with Naples singer Matty Jollie performing. Also on Sunday, Popoli will present a special gift to surprise employee Joseph “Handsome Joe” Carkin, who has been with Foxboro for its entire 20-year run.
Popoli took advantage of a six-month timeout during the pandemic in 2020 to up his game at the sports bar. He added more high-back booths and TV screens, a new walk-in-cooler, refurbished restrooms, a retooled menu and redesigned floor-to-ceiling displays of sports memorabilia. “We took every picture off the wall, repainted and shuffled the deck so only the best items were put back up,” Popoli said.
Unfortunately, though, the pandemic spelled the end to Foxboro’s short-lived spinoff in Bonita Springs. Popoli isn’t planning additional locations now. He clearly has his hands full with his longtime local, original spot.
“Naples has been really, really, really good to me,” Popoli said.