The founder and visionary behind national dining chains P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and Fleming‘s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar plans three new restaurants in the Naples area and one in Bonita Springs within the next seven months. Naples resident Paul Fleming and his wife, Jody Goodenough-Fleming, and their locally based restaurant group plan to eventually have a diverse portfolio in Florida of 50 restaurants, which includes growing the Lake Park Diner concept that began in Naples.
Goodenough-Fleming, CEO of Paul Fleming Restaurants, leads the company’s strategic growth plan in the Sunshine State. Southwest Florida provides fresh opportunities for Paul Fleming’s longtime passion of creating and growing restaurants. It was advantageous to recently move the restaurant group’s home base from California to Florida, especially since the Flemings have been full-time residents of Naples for years.
“We are residents and the quality of life here is amazing. This is where we are. We raise our family here,” Goodenough-Fleming said. “We want to be part of the community. I think that what we’re doing is indicative of that.”
The Flemings named Colleen Dunavan president of the Naples-based restaurant group this spring. “I was very excited and flattered to be asked to come onto this team,” Dunavan said. “I think Paul and Jody have a fantastic vision for what this next chapter is. They’re just really great restaurants. I’ve been a fan of Lake Park Diner since it opened, so it really is a neat story to say now I’m behind the scenes.”
A Naples resident for nearly 15 years, Dunavan most recently was chief operating officer at Campagna Hospitality Group, which includes Osteria Tulia, Bar Tulia and The French restaurants in Naples. “I love this part of the state,” she said. “I actually moved away and came back intentionally. I missed it so much.”
Dunavan steps in with numerous restaurant projects already in the works. “I couldn’t have more faith in a team that’s with these people that I’ve known for a very long time. I worked with Paul and Skip Fox, who was the former president of Fleming’s, 20 years ago so we have a long history. So, it’s very easy for me to feel confident opening several restaurants at one time knowing who’s leading the charge.”
PJK Neighborhood Chinese
PJK Neighborhood Chinese restaurant is being built out in the former space of Ristorante Ciao, which closed last year after operating for 34 years at 835 Fourth Ave. S., a block north of Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples.
“We’ll be open this fall,” said Goodenough-Fleming. “We’re super excited. It’s a well-known location and we’re following a great restaurant that was well embraced by the community. We’re just really excited about being in that location and having a neighborhood Chinese place.”
The Flemings gutted the interior of the old brick Italian restaurant and are working to completely transform it into their new concept. The restaurant will have a full bar and about 30 of its 150 seats will be outside. They plan a light and airy southern Florida décor, Goodenough-Fleming said. “We’re starting from ground zero with that.”
As its name implies, PJK Neighborhood Chinese will have a neighborhood focus with a lot of familiar Chinese dishes from mom-and-pop restaurants, such as chow mein and lo mein, with some contemporary takes on classics such as lettuce wraps and even a coastal influence, said Executive Chef Paul Muller, a seasoned professional who previously was director of culinary operations for P.F. Chang’s during its expansion period. “We’re going to do some great duck dishes, chicken, crab and lobster rangoons, a lot of fun stuff, very familiar things, but we’ll also have some items that will utilize local seafood like flounder, some sizzling Cantonese flounder or yellowtail snapper when available,” Muller said.
Expect Szechuan-style crispy fish with local seafood in season, Iberico pork dumplings, green papaya salad with rice noodles and yuzu vinaigrette, Kung Pao chicken with chili-seared peanuts and spring onions, and Mongolian lamb rib chops with garlic-soy and mushrooms.
“We’re not going to be a Fifth Avenue restaurant. We want to have a price point and a menu that really lends itself to satisfying a lot of needs. So, it can be a place where people come in off the beach or have a business lunch,” Dunavan said. “This is one of what we hope to be many restaurants.”
PJK is short for Paul Jody Kolton, the Flemings’ first names combined with the name of their dog, Kolton, a Bernese Mountain Dog. Paul Fleming manages to work his own name into most of the names of his restaurants in some way. His initials are the P.F. in P.F. Chang’s. His last name is lent to Fleming’s, of course. His first and middle name are used for Paul Martin’s American Grill.
Pablo’s Authentic Taqueria
Pablo’s—Spanish for Paul—will be the Flemings’ research-and-development test kitchen in the former location of Bill’s Cafe, 947 Third Ave. N., in Naples. “We’re using the space for R & D, so for right now that’s for PJK,” Dunavan said.
“You can’t really do any of this in your home or in a restaurant that doesn’t have that type of equipment so we identified pretty quickly that we needed a space and we needed it pretty soon,” she said. “So, the opportunity to take over Bill’s presented itself and I think Paul just said this really makes sense for right now and where we are as a new business and we’ll continue to use this space as we build other concepts.”
While the space is being completed, the Flemings have based their test site at Brian Roland’s Crave Culinaire commercial kitchen off Old 41 Road in North Naples. In addition to a research kitchen, the old Bill’s Cafe will become Pablo’s Authentic Taqueria, a small Mexican restaurant.
Pablo’s simple menu will feature carne asada, carnitas and tinga tacos with sides of guacamole, queso and salsa made from traditional recipes curated by Chef Muller. Patrons also will have the opportunity to sample future items on the menus at PJK and Lake Park Diner.
Lake Park Diner
Construction recently started at the site of a second Lake Park Diner targeted to open next February on the south side of Bonita Beach Road west of U.S. 41 in Bonita Springs. Originally planned to be named Bonita Beach Diner, the new restaurant will be another Lake Park Diner, which launched in the Naples’ Lake Park neighborhood in 2019.
“We decided that with the brand recognition we have garnered in Naples over the last nearly three years that guests in Bonita Springs and elsewhere in Southwest Florida were already familiar with our concept and we didn’t want to add any confusion into the market,” said Skip Fox. “In addition, when guests inquired about our site in Bonita they would always say, ‘So, when are you opening the Lake Park Diner in Bonita Springs?’ That definitely helped us to make the decision too.”
The new restaurant will be nearly double the size of the original Lake Park Diner with an outdoor bar. “The design is really beautiful,” Dunavan said. “A very similar menu if not the same. The thought is the success of Lake Park Diner happened so organically and the menu there satisfies a lot of needs.” The concept does not use steroids, antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified organisms in any of its food.
Expect the Bonita location to be nearer the prototype of what the Lake Park Diner concept will be for future expansion. Lake Park Diner Founders Square is planned on the southeast corner of Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard. Lake Park Diner Lakewood Ranch also is in the works, Dunavan said.
“We certainly want to open more of them,” she said. “Paul said he was going to open 50 restaurants, all in Florida, so we’re going to hold him to that.” Lake Park Diner founder Adam Smith died last summer but Smith’s wife, Kelly, and his parents still have a partnership with the Flemings and will continue to play a part in growing the diner project with Smith Organics.