Comfort And Culture In The Heart Of Naples: Tony Ridgway And Sukie Honeycutt


Tony’s Off Third — the local staple for Naples residents in the heart of Olde Naples, just off Third Street South. Something always drew me to its quaint courtyard, beautiful stone fountain, outdoor seating and cozy outdoor bar. Having grown up around architecture and history in the suburb of Lake Forest, just outside of Chicago, my natural draw to Naples’ Third Street South was immediately obvious. I frequently take my daughter to Tony’s for coffee in the mornings, where she plays near the fountain that brings the two buildings together. Here’s how I quickly became familiar with the sophisticated wine list that Sukie Honeycutt, the wine Director at Tony’s, stocks the shelves with: the second I saw a personal favorite and one of the world’s greatest wine estates, John Benson’s Far Niente, on the shelf, I knew I had to learn more. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Tony Ridgway, executive chef and owner of Tony’s Off Third and Ridgway Bar and Grill, as well as Sukie, who oversees all their relationships with their vintners. This is a perfect story of how one side of the business compliments the other.

Photo Credit: Caronchi Photography

Haute Living: Are you a Naples, Florida native? And if not, how many years have you been in the community?

Sukie Honeycutt: I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I lived there for 18 years, then I moved to Connecticut for 10 years and came to Naples at 29 years old.

HL: You own four restaurants in Naples. How did you get started, and what was your first location?

Tony Ridgway: My parents moved to Naples in 1962 to join my Aunt Rosemary Robinson, my mother’s sister, in business. Rosemary Robinson was a well-known interior designer. She was across the street on Third. You see, the white building with blue shutters, that was built for Rosemary. The Fleischmann family that owns Third Street asked Rosemary to bring her existing business to Naples and built that building specifically for her interior design business. My mother and aunt were in business in that location [until] 1994. Aunt Rosemary met a man named ‘Junkie’ (Julius was his real name) — he was like a junk man who loved to buy stuff, that’s where he got ‘Junkie’ from. He built the building for her. This is when I came to Naples. Before this, I went to St. James in Hagerstown, then I attended Kenyon College in Ohio. Junkie Fleischmann collected a lot of junk. The Fleischmann family (of Fleischmann Yeast), were developers, world travelers and really sophisticated people that took an interest in Third Street. They started acquiring and developing land here. They, to this day, still own a lot of Third Street.

I opened my first restaurant in 1971 at the age of 27, when I got out of the Air Force. It was called Wurst Place. It was originally owned by a couple from Milwaukee. I bought the business from them and revamped the menus, took a little bit of time to get it redesigned and reopened it [on] October 4, 1971. We still have the bratwurst, Reuben and [other food from Wurst Place] on the menu here. It was a great place to begin.

In 1972, I opened the Chef’s Garden, which was super unique in the fact that Naples had been a place of steak, steak and more steak. All the country clubs were the same way with their menus. All about steak. Chef’s Garden had a creative menu, which was what became popular for our guests. We then saw an interest in the decor! The original colors of the Chef’s Garden were pink and green — very Naples! I will never forget where I came up with the colors for Chef’s Garden; I was In Florence, Italy, with my aunt, looking over the city, [and] I noticed the color of the table cloths at the restaurant we were sitting at. They were a beautiful house and garden color, perfect for a Chef’s Garden.

HL: I noticed you carry Far Niente… I am a huge Far Niente fan. Tell me about the vineyard and why you choose this wine to put in your shop.

Sukie and Tony: John Benson, the founder of Far Niente, took one of the oldest buildings in Napa Valley and turned it into a vineyard which is still there to this day. It was founded in 1885, abandoned during Prohibition in 1919, then properly restored by Gil Nickel in 1979. Such a cool story. We actually have hosted two dinners at Far Niente, back in the 1980’s, for Gill Nickel, and his wife, Beth, who has now taken over the vineyard. We have hosted dinner with Jack Stewart at Silverado Vineyard, as well as a dinner at Sterling Vineyards!

Photo Credit: Caronchi Photogrpahy

HL: Sukie, were you really on the cover of Rolling Stone? What was that for?

Sukie: I was in the music business before I got into the restaurant and wine industry — I was a recording artist for Motown. We were discovered by Andrew Loog Oldham, he was the producer of the Rolling Stones. He was their manager for eight years. We were performing on West Port Connecticut Green, just across from the main Westport movie theater. Andrew heard us on his way to buy tickets to a movie with a friend. He told his friend, ‘I’m not going to this movie, I’m going to listen to this band.’ After one song, he asked us if we would be interested in signing a recording contract with him. We were signed on the spot and went on to produce three albums for Motown.

HL: What is the main comparison between Tony’s and Sukie’s Wine Shop?

Sukie: That’s an interesting question. Sukie’s Wine Shop has a very small wine selection, with only 175 wines. Tony’s Off Third has over 1000 wines. When we opened up Sukie’s Wine Shop, I took the best wines from Tony’s and [sold] them [there].

HL: Tony, I am obsessed with the olives from Ridgway that you serve at the outdoor bar, can you tell us how those are made?

Tony: We make them uncured and unbrined, we always leave the pits in as added value for taste, [then we add] olive oil, salt and pepper, and garlic. (Castelvetrano olives – sautéed in oil, garlic and chili peppers)

HL: To what do you owe your long term success and sustainability?

Tony: We became friends with a lot of the people we first became associated with. I like the word ‘friends,’ because we deal with our friends at all of our restaurants. At Tony’s, personal relationships are the key to our success. Priorities are also key. We make everything from scratch and in-house as much as possible. That takes more time and costs more, but the quality and freshness are really important, and that’s why we do it. Our business is a place where people are comfortable. We may not be as flashy and shiny as some other restaurants here in Naples, but we are a place where people come because they are comfortable. That is why they come back — we have created a place where people want to be. They love that this is a family business and that there are members of the staff that have been here 10, 20, 30 years, and in this business, that is truly unheard of. It’s a testament to the culture that we have established over the years.

Tony’s Off Third and Ridgway are located 1300 Third Street S Naples FL, 34102. Visit their website for more information here: