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Q: What’s going in at the old Pearl on Airport? —Sharon Franzese Addesso, Naples  

A: Lujacks All-American Grill is targeted to open this fall in the large space vacated last fall by The Pearl Steak & Seafood Restaurant in Fountain Park retail center near the southwest corner of Airport-Pulling and Vanderbilt Beach roads in North Naples. 

The new local restaurant will be a tribute to Notre Dame Fighting Irish football legend Johnny Lujack, the 1947 Heisman Trophy winner, college hall of famer and former quarterback for the Chicago Bears. Lujack died last summer in Naples at the age of 98. 

Lujack’s connection to Naples is his grandson, Grant Pohlmann, who co-owns Lujacks restaurant with Ted Kasemir, co-founder of Bar Louie and Zza Baby Pizza Bar, both of which formerly had locations in Southwest Florida. In addition to co-owning Lujacks, Pohlmann will be the restaurant’s landlord. Two years ago, he purchased the Fountain Park and adjacent Olympia Park retail and office centers in North Naples for more than $26.7 million. 

“We’ve got a great backstory. It just felt like it was meant to be,” Pohlmann said. “I was thrilled to get teamed up with Ted. The concept is fun. My family and extended family are really enjoying the process.” 

The Pearl closed last September after doing business for more than five years in the more than 7,200-square-foot anchor endcap where Stonewood Grill & Tavern had a 17-year run at 7935 Airport-Pulling Road, suite 20. Expect Lujacks, targeted to open this September, to be more approachable than a special occasion venue, said Kasemir, who will be Lujacks’ managing partner. 

“We’ll have street tacos. We’ll have a prime rib sandwich. We’ll have amazing burger selections. There’ll be classic mac and cheese, Buffalo mac and cheese, deviled eggs, a broad spectrum for primarily the lunch hour and then the dinner hour will allow more toward the steakhouse feel,” he said, comparing the concept to J. Alexander’s, which recently opened in North Naples. 

“We’re going to add some Chicago tweaks to it. We’ll do a Chicken Vesuvio, which is basically a roast garlic chicken with potatoes. We’re going to primarily buy our steaks from Stock Yards out of Chicago.” 

The proposed 237-seat restaurant will include 56 seats in a private dining room, 53 at the bar and 44 on a patio at the northern end of the venue. Part of the wall along the bar will be removed to open the space up to the new patio.  

“It will be lighter and brighter. We want this to be kind of the heartbeat of the place,” Pohlmann said. “We’re going to have a really cool restaurant. We’re getting to use all of Ted’s expertise and design people from all the years he’s been opening up restaurants.” 

Interior plans show a luminous backlit alabaster bar top, a backlit back bar, new upholstered furniture and booths, tailored textiles, tin ceiling accents and a variety of decorative lighting. Some black-and-white photos of Lujack will be enlarged and framed in the restaurant. 

Barker Nestor architectural design firm from Chicago was inspired by the photo book Pohlmann created for the 50th anniversary of Lujack winning the Heisman. To celebrate the 1997 commemoration, the whole family went to New York City, where Lujack had been a TV color commentator for the New York Giants. 

“We’re not hammering people over the head with history and football, but it’s got a lot of my grandfather in it,” Pohlmann said. 

Nostalgic nods will feature Lujack’s actual Heisman trophy, which Lujack gave to Pohlmann. The prestigious award will be on display in a protective glass case between the restaurant’s main entrance and bar, so that selfies with the 45-pound cast bronze trophy can be shared via social media. “I really think it’s meant to be celebrated instead of in a corner, and I think it will be a lot of fun for other people to be able to see it,” Pohlmann said.  

By stats, Lujack might be the best college football player of all time, Pohlmann said. 

“He was a great athlete. He was a four-sport letterman at Notre Dame—baseball, track, basketball and football,” he said. “He was voted Notre Dame’s best athlete of all time.” 

Undoubtedly, Lujack’s athletic career is legendary. 

“One day, he was playing in a baseball game, and in between innings, he went to the track meet in Notre Dame for the long jump and javelin and won them both,” Pohlmann said. “You couldn’t do it today, but it’s just one of those cool stories.” 

Lujack’s legacy is even more incredible when one considers that his college career was interrupted by war for two years. So, Lujack also was a World War II Navy veteran. 

“He was the oldest living Heisman Trophy winner, three national titles, first-round draft pick and just a really fun guy to be around,” Pohlmann said about his maternal grandfather. “He was one of my best pals. He kind of helped raise me. I was friends with all of his buddies. I played golf with those guys and was a part of their rounds when I could after school.” 

Pohlmann’s first job was washing cars and painting restrooms at the automobile dealership that Lujack and Lujack’s father-in-law started in Davenport, Iowa. “So, we spent a lot more time than you typically would with a grandfather and enjoyed all the same things,” Pohlmann said. 

“He’s been my best pal forever. We did all this stuff together—golf and football and Notre Dame games. Even when he couldn’t play golf anymore, he would ride around in my golf cart and give all of my buddies grief playing golf.” 

Pohlmann is grateful that he was able to spend a couple of years with Lujack in Naples before he passed away last July 25. Pohlmann’s oldest son, Louie, even shares the same birthday as Lujack, who was affectionately called Louie by his friends. 

Lujack was born Jan. 4, 1925, in a small town near Pittsburgh to immigrants from Poland. His father’s original surname was Luczak. By all accounts, Johnny Lujack had a great sense of humor, an abundance of charisma and movie-star looks. 

“He and my grandmother were friends with Sinatra and those guys. It’s a make-believe life. It really was,” Pohlmann said. “You know, good-looking dude gets the girl and wins all the games and buddied with all those hobnobbers. He was very charismatic and was the emcee of the Bob Hope Classic, the golf tournament with all those celebrities. He’d make fun of all the presidents. He was just a fun, fun guy.” 

Pohlmann looks forward to continuing to honor his grandfather’s legacy with Lujacks All-American Grill. 

“Now that he’s gone, I really feel like this will be another reason for my family to get together and really keep celebrating him and all the great times we had because of him,” he said. “It’s a little bit about him but the bones of the place are going to be a terrific restaurant, but it does have a terrific backstory.” 

The “Tim Aten Knows” weekly column answers local questions from readers. Email Tim at 

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