Piece of Naples history torn down

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — When Kirsten Hewes drove past the restaurant that for 15 years she had owned and operated, and saw that the building had been demolished, she burst into tears.

She was not totally surprised by her emotions as she stared at the pieces of lumber and sections of metal roofing lying in a heap on the ground.

After all, she and her husband Harry held their wedding “rehearsal dinner there at Sydney’s,” Hewes said.

“I went through two pregnancies and raised two children while we owned Sydney’s. For 15 years, we had the same staff — the same chef and the same dishwasher,” she said.

On March 23, the building that, for almost 30 years housed four different eating establishments, was torn down. In the coming weeks, a new Dunkin’ Donuts store will be constructed in its place.

In 1993, when Hewes and three other people purchased the restaurant from Bob Leclerc, the Naples community knew it as The Country Squire.

Before that business got a foothold, it was a drive-through lobster and seafood joint.

“Oh, it’s been here forever,” Hewes said.

“It was an institution in this town. Now, it is going to be a Dunkin’ Donuts. I like Dunkin’ Donuts, but I was saddened to see the building go,” she said.

The restaurant with the brick exterior had a history with the locals in Naples.

For Hewes, that history is personal. It is one that is intertwined with friendships, hardships, and a dedicated entrepreneurship attitude.

“I had a ton of laughs there and great friends I made over the years, and great customers that I don’t see any more after we sold it,” she said.

“I had a great staff. We would sit down after the shift and have a glass of wine together, and talk about the night,” she said.

Two marriages resulted from employees who met at Sydney’s. One was between Chef Frank Merced and Elaine, who now own Merced’s on Brandy Pond. Also, a bus boy and a waitress met at their place of work. Now, they have been married for ten years and have two children, Hewes said.

“We have had tragedies, too,” Hewes said.

A server was hit by a vehicle on Route 302, just outside the restaurant. Another employee, who had been with Sydney’s for 14 years, suffered a head injury while removing his docks for the winter.

“When you are together for 15 years, you see the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said.

In its heyday, Sydney’s was a restaurant with a reputation as one of the best places to eat in the region. The staff dressed to the nines; and Hewes ran a tight ship.

“We put a lot of heart and sweat and tears in there, and it really paid off,” Hewes said.

“Most of that is due to the fact that I had a consistent staff year after year after year,” she said.

So, for the people who sat down for a meal, the food and the service was consistent.

“While Naples is a huge tourist area, we focused on making sure that the locals were part of our customer base,” she said.

The Hewes offered loyalty punch cards and provided a free Christmas party at the end of the year.

“We really catered to the locals,” she said.

Over the years, the interior of the building changed. When Kirsten Hewes bought the restaurant, it was closed for about three months for renovations. Several years later, she and Harry bought out the co-owners. A decade passed. Opting for more family time, the Hewes sold a thriving dining establishment and focused on their retail businesses.

The new owners kept the name, but the restaurant closed its doors in 2011. Around that time period, some of the kitchen appliances were sold during a public auction.

Then, for slightly more than a year, VillageSide Restaurant and Pub occupied that spot. After 14 months, in mid-September 2013, VillageSide owners announced the restaurant was going out of business because the building they leased was in the process of being sold.

Businessman Larry Morton posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page, “Once again, thank you for your patronage. The VillageSide is now closed.”

“It was a great time. Thank you to our loyal staff for making it fun, for going above and beyond and staying committed to the cause. We met a lot of great people,” he said.

“Thank you, and ‘til next time, ‘Happy meals,’” Morton wrote.

 

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