Three years ago, Mary Beth Hansen bought the site of the old Ophelia’s Pasta House in Nokomis and took a sledgehammer to the place. Out went the acres and acres of garish pink tile. Out went the nine tiny dining rooms in favor of a much more open and spacious three-room floor plan. And, finally, up went her new restaurant’s name, Paradise Grill, a statement of just how Mary Beth feels about her restaurant, as well her beautiful corner of Florida.
“I’m from Michigan,” the warm and affable Mary Beth explains while enjoying a martini at the Paradise Grill’s indoor bar. “I had a restaurant in East Lansing, sold it, and then had a bistro in Lansing, right across from the capital for many years. Eighteen years ago, I came down here to change my lifestyle and get out of the cold. I completely gutted this place and started from scratch.”
The new restaurant she built is a lively and colorful homage to Old Florida’s laid-back lifestyle, to the freedom of mid-century vacation travel and the great American highway. At the Paradise Grill, everything is made from scratch even down to the soups and salad dressing. The drinks are stiff and cold, and by the time your second visit arrives, Mary Beth and her staff of 40 will likely have already learned your name.
“Our goal is to get to know people,” she says. “We’re a neighborhood business, very customer-oriented. We absolutely love our locals, really cultivate our relationship with them. We want everyone to feel welcome and special and just strive to be gracious hosts and hostesses.”
Outside, Paradise Grill boasts an authentic thatched tiki bar hand-built by members of Florida’s Miccosukee tribe, jammed every night of the week with live music and happy hour drink specials. There’s a 7-foot tarpon on the wall; and inside, floor-to-ceiling wine racks; a full bar as long as a basketball court; and the artwork of Brendan Coudal, locally famous for his retro paintings of pinup girls and the Florida of fishing poles and orange blossoms. For a $100 donation to the South County Food Bank, customers can have their own hometowns added to the colorful road marker signs hung about the place.
Mary Beth wrote the menu herself and brought down some of her Midwestern favorite comfort food from her Michigan days—including shepherd’s pie and mashed potatoes—and added a coastal cuisine flair, including her signature fish tacos. Of course, the Paradise Grill is also the go to place for that perfect “cheeseburger in paradise.”
But being the best casual dining and watering hole in town isn’t enough for Mary Beth. Paradise Grill also regularly hosts fundraisers for a variety of nonprofits including Toys for Tots, the Venice-Nokomis Woman’s Club and the United Way. At last year’s Christmas fundraiser, more than 900 toys were donated by her customers to give to needy kids.
“As a neighborhood business, anything we can do financially to help out in the community, we do it,” she says.
She takes a moment to greet yet another customer with a, “Hey, Bill! How are ya?”
Then she winks and says, “At Paradise Grill, we just spoil our customers rotten.”
1097 N. Tamiami Trail, Nokomis, 941.786.1524, ParadiseGrillFL.com