Q: There is a possible restaurant in a small building on Route 41 and Rattlesnake Hammock that is being worked on. The structure is next to the 7-Eleven gas station. Any idea what’s going on? — Theresa Campbell, East Naples
A: After more than a three-year wait, the Mother Trucker Cafe is finally almost ready for prime time on the corner of U.S. 41 East and Catalina Drive in East Naples. Look for the new local restaurant to open this month at 4811 Tamiami Trail E. to serve a taste of Chicago and “upbeat street food.”
“It’s our goal to open in the next week for sure. I’m excited to get it going,” said co-owner Rick Berec, who previously operated Augustina’s A Taste of Chicago in East Naples and Old Chicago Pizzeria Pastas & More in Naples. “I don’t have a permanent date yet. I’m praying within the next week. That’s my goal.”
The casual family restaurant has been a long time coming for Berec, a Naples resident who was born and raised in Chicago. The project hasn’t always been on the front burner since he started it in 2019. “I’ve been traveling back and forth to Chicago,” he said. “I’ve been spreading myself a little too thin.”
Interrupted by a pandemic and a hurricane, the restaurant’s plans survived. Berec also has had difficulty hiring staff, but he thinks the cafe is worth the wait.
“It’s a perfect time to open,” he said. “We are going into season and ready to go. The place looks great.”
A colorful food truck permanently parked on the southern side of the building will serve as the restaurant’s kitchen. The converted step van extends the commercial space of the more than 2,000-square-foot building next door to the 7-Eleven convenience store on the corner of the East Trail and Rattlesnake Hammock Road.
Built in the 1960s, the small building was previously home to a beauty salon and an electric golf cart business. Its new proprietors spruced it up with a fresh façade, roof and landscaping. The interior glows with bright graffiti art targeted to appeal to a younger crowd. “It’s a counter deal, in and out,” Berec said, although the nearly 50-seat cafe has seating inside and out, too.
The menu includes traditional Chicago-style deep-dish and hand-tossed, cracker-thin crust pizza. “My best pizza I’ve ever done. The best pie in town, hands down,” Berec said.
He also leans into his Windy City roots with Chicago dogs — all-beef Vienna hot dogs “dragged through the garden” on a poppyseed bun — and Italian beef, grilled Italian sausage and Maxwell Street Polish sandwiches. It’s not all about Chi-Town, though.
“We are rolling out a whole new taco concept,” said Berec, noting that the marinated pork for al pastor tacos is roasted on a vertical spit and all of the charbroiled meats are freshly prepared.
The Mexican part of the menu extends to nachos, quesadillas, tamales and taco bowls with house-made tortilla chips and guacamole, pico de gallo, queso and salsa. The cafe also has gyros, corn dogs, chili dogs, chicken strips, fries, soups, salads and desserts, milkshakes, draft beer and wine.
The website for the Mother Trucker Cafe teases “more locations coming soon,” but Berec is still busy making last-minute hires to get the initial site open first.
“Everybody’s been waiting for it to open,” Berec said. “But we are definitely close, real close.”
Q: Any word on Sammy’s Pizza in Towne Center? — John Lifrieri, East Naples
A: Still attempting to navigate Collier County’s permitting process, the owners of Sammy’s Pizza are tentatively targeting an early 2023 opening for their new pizzeria in Naples Towne Centre South on U.S. 41 East in East Naples.
This plan puts Scott and Brittany Manau more than a year behind schedule. They initially hoped to open by the end of last year in a 1,488-square-foot inline unit at 3829 Tamiami Trail E. between Aaron’s lease-to-own store and the new Publix that launched last week in the former Lucky’s Market space. The northern Illinois residents signed the lease in September 2021 but hit a snag with the restaurant’s commercial range hood installation. Converting the former office for Boost Mobile wireless into a full-service restaurant kitchen was easier said than done.
The Manaus subsequently set their sights on launching in early 2022, then summer, then fall. “It’s just been exhausting,” Brittany Manau said this week.
Although the couple operates three other Sammy’s Pizza locations near Chicago, the East Naples pizzeria will be their first outside of the Kankakee, Illinois, area. In a renewed effort to complete the Southwest Florida restaurant, Scott Manau took over the contractor work and temporarily relocated to the Naples area. While still awaiting local and state permits, progress is being made, Brittany Manau said.
“It’s looking really good. It’s looking better on paper,” she said. “We are so close but we are not celebrating until we have our final occupancy. The minute we get an approval we are ready to open.”
Established in 1953 in Kankakee, Illinois Sammy’s is the home of the “Tough Guy” signature pizza, which features pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon, garlic, crushed red pepper and mozzarella. Sammy’s menu includes Italian pasta favorites, steaks, chops, chicken, seafood baskets, burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads, appetizers and desserts. Sammy’s is not related to Sami’s Pizza & Grill, owned by Sami Rahman, on Marco Island.
The weekly “Tim Aten Knows” column answers local questions from readers at GulfshoreBusiness.com. Follow Tim Aten on social media: @TimAtenKnows on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.