Zeppe’s Tavern performed its own opening act this week. Originally anticipated to take the stage last December, Zeppe’s restaurant and bar wowed the crowd with its rockin’ debut Wednesday in North Naples.
Zeppe’s introduced its first location outside of Ohio to replace Naples Brewhouse, which closed last year in the former space of The Brass Tap in the Gateway Shoppes at North Bay on the northwest corner of Wiggins Pass Road and U.S. 41. The new locally owned pizzeria pub, promoted with the tagline “Eat, Drink and Rock & Roll,” has 30 locations in seven counties around Cleveland, enthusiastically celebrated as the rock ‘n’ roll capital of the world.
Zeppe’s owner Joe Ciresi, who has homes in North Naples and northeastern Ohio, started the process 15 months ago to bring his venue to Florida. “I think it’s life in today’s world,” he said. “Permitting was a little slower than I’d ever expect, but that’s the way it is. Everything we touched took much longer. It was just crazy. It didn’t matter if it was a pizza-making table or if it was an air conditioner. The lead times were extraordinary.”
Similar to what has been experienced by most business start-ups lately, Zeppe’s was caught up in supply chain bottlenecks. “We’re still waiting on air curtains for the doorways,” Ciresi said. “Our sign’s not up yet. We ordered that six months ago. Everyone’s doing their very best and it’s a bit out of their control but it is what it is, I guess. I’m just so happy to be open.”
The opening turnout exceeded Ciresi’s expectations. “We’re just excited to be here. They’ve been waiting as long to come see us as we’ve been waiting for them to come see us.”
Southwest Florida’s legions of Ohio transplants especially have been anticipating Zeppe’s opening for many months. Local resident Laura Clemo, who relocated here from northeastern Ohio about 30 years ago, didn’t miss Zeppe’s opening day.
“It was just as good as we remembered it from Cleveland,” said Clemo, who dined on Zepperoni rolls and a meatball melt sandwich while her husband, Jim, ordered his go-to: pepperoni pizza. “We know how good Zeppe’s pizza is so it’s hard to not get the pizza. Zeppe’s was our favorite pizza in Ohio. It’s great.”
Although Clemo said she and her husband are thin-crust pizza people, there’s something irresistible about Zeppe’s signature zig-zag, scalloped pizza. “The crust is so good,” she said. “To me, it’s all about the crust on a pizza. If the crust isn’t good, I’m not going back there for another pizza. It was delicious.”
Clemo also was impressed with Zeppe’s reasonable prices and its large covered patio at the Naples location. “We will be going there a lot,” she said.
Denise Shanabarger, who lives in the Gulf Harbor neighborhood about a mile away from Zeppe’s, also enjoyed opening night at the restaurant and bar. “I have been waiting patiently for something decent to open there,” she said. “Actually, I should say ‘we.’ My entire neighborhood has been looking forward to their opening. The majority of us were there last night.”
Shanabarger had the Nashville hot chicken sliders with fries and her husband had the Zeppe’s Original Italian sub. Considering it was opening night, they didn’t expect to enjoy spot-on food and service, she said. “The staff handled the first night wonderfully. We enjoyed the service, atmosphere and the food. Zeppe’s is a real fun place and I hope it stays put for a long time. It’s exactly what our area needed. I hope that it brings more tenants to that shopping center.”
The new Zeppe’s is similar to what is offered in Ohio, Ciresi said, but the Naples menu includes some fresh additions such as an herb-crusted grouper entrée, a ceviche starter, grouper tacos, a grouper sandwich and lobster pizza with a garlic white sauce. “We made a few menu changes to put that Southwest Florida flair on it,” he said.
Zeppe’s namesake is Led Zeppelin, the first concert Ciresi attended more than 40 years ago in Ohio. On the wall of Zeppe’s in Naples is a framed pair of Daisy Duke shorts signed by all four original members of the British band. Wall décor includes classic rock LP album covers and rock memorabilia that Ciresi has collected over the years, including guitars signed by rockers such as Bob Seger, who has a vacation home in Naples.
“Everything’s real, everything’s signed, authenticated,” he said. “This is all real stuff. We’ve got Steve Miller’s guitar over there. The Eagles all signed that guitar. There’s cool stuff. Tom Petty, Cream, Clapton, Floyd and, then, at the front door all the Beatles signed a dollar bill. I love rock and roll.”
The venue has multiple video screens showing bands performing in concert as the music is heard throughout the more than 150-seat space. “Whatever you’re hearing on our sound system you’re watching it on our TVs,” Ciresi said.
Zeppe’s, 895 Wiggins Pass Road, is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. “That’s not set in stone,” Ciresi said. “We’re trying to feel it out. Whatever our guests want, that’s what we’re going to do.”