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Texas Tony’s Rib & Brewhouse finds a home in Cape Coral

April 5, 2019
By KATIE EGAN ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

For Tony Phelan, barbecue is a passion and a way of life.

After developing several successful seafood-based restaurants - including Pincher's Crab Shack and Deep Lagoon Seafood - Phelan, who is one of the masterminds behind Phelan Family Brands, knew he wanted to open a second Texas Tony's Rib & Brewhouse, but the question was always where.

When Phelan saw that the former Sonny's BBQ at 738 S.W. Pine Island Road was up for sale, he jumped at the opportunity and the chance to bring his passion to Cape Coral.

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"In Texas, barbecue is a destination," Phelan said. "People will drive miles to go to a famous barbecue place."

"Our Naples store has become a destination because we have met a tremendous amount of Cape people who would drive down to Naples to get good barbecue. They're really happy they don't have to do that anymore."

Phelan playfully compared the Naples restaurant, which opened in 2010, to an old barbecue shack.

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But the Cape Coral location is a whole new concept.

"It's very upbeat and there's lots of light."

The former Sonny's got a complete overhaul. It was painted, and it got new floors, booths, tables and chairs. There's also a full bar.

When everything was said and done, Phelan spent about $250,000 turning it into Texas Tony's.

Years ago, he looked at the space when it was occupied by Uno's Pizzeria & Grill. But, when it was up for sale, Phelan couldn't afford it.

"When Uno's closed, we probably had six stores," he said. "It was too big for us at the time."

When Sonny's closed, everything changed.

"It took us eight years to find this location," he said. "And we got a good business deal."

"The traffic count is unbelievable and the building is absolutely beautiful on the inside and out."

When compared to the Texas Tony's in East Naples, Phelan said the atmosphere is different.

The building had good bones and already had decent lighting, but it was dark when Phelan took it over.

"We painted it brick white," he said. "Like sun-bleached."

And, of course, Phelan used a lot of Texas memorabilia to decorate the space.

"There are so many parallels with Texas and Florida," he said. "Texas has the cowboy and Florida has the cracker."

Phelan ventured out to LaBelle, garage sales and looked for barns where people were working to see if he could use any discarded items they no longer needed. On the wall in Cape Coral you'll see a lot of horse tack and rigging for wagons and buggies.

On one of his adventures, he found a single horse plow and it was broken so he was able to buy it.

"Our lead carpenter helped repair the break and it's featured in the restaurant," Phelan said.

Another time, he found an old spinning wheel in Clewiston.

"It's a lot of fun going out into Florida country. There's a lot of country in middle Florida and people don't know it," Phelan said.

Texas Tony's has been open for less than a month, but so far Phelan says the reaction has been great. His mission right now is to make sure his staff pleases everyone who walks through the door.

"There are multiple managers in the kitchen and out on the floor talking to customers," he said. "And I believe the product has been received very well."

Phelan explained that he trains managers and wait staff to inquire about the customer's meal if they seem unhappy; not to do a drive-by, ask how things are, and walk away.

"We are not going to charge someone if they don't like something," he said. "We want people to come back and say you took care of me."

For Phelan, the art of barbecue is sacred.

"We don't boil our meat and just put sauce on it to make it tender," he said. "We smoke it with seasoned oak and make our own barbecue sauce."

Phelan said his favorite meal is brisket, and he loves a good pulled pork sandwich.

Baby back ribs are Texas Tony's No. 1 seller.

But in Texas, Phelan said you don't normally see baby back ribs on the menu. It's usually St. Louis ribs.

"Someone challenged me to put baby back ribs on the menu and smoke them," he said. "Cook them low and slow and the meat just falls right off the bones."

Before Tony's and his first restaurant in Southwest Florida, Pincher's Crab Shack, which opened in 1997, Phelan owned and created a small number of Irish pubs in Texas. But when the oil bust hit, he lost everything.

"The whole state was financially ruined," he said. "The price of oil went from $40 a barrel to $10."

A lot of people lost their jobs. Phelan negotiated everything he owned and he either sold or closed his existing restaurants. He moved to Florida with two cars, two sons, a trailer and started over. His first job in Naples was as a waiter. But despite it all, Phelan never filed for bankruptcy, and he is very proud of that.

When he first moved to Southwest Florida, Phelan told people he was a proud Texan living in Florida. Now he says he is a proud Floridian from Texas.

"In my eyes, the streets of Florida are paved in gold and all you need is work ethic and a good idea to pick up that gold. The greatest thing that ever happened was closing the restaurants in Texas and moving to Florida and starting over."

Texas Tony's Rib & Brewhousse is at 738 S.W. Pine Island Road, Cape Coral.?Call 239-347-7033.



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