2010-07-29 / 15 Minutes

Like father, like son, a staunch ‘publican’

BY SUSAN POWELL BROWN
Special to Florida Weekly

KIM RIGGIE / FLORIDA WEEKLY KIM RIGGIE / FLORIDA WEEKLY It takes a hearty constitution to imbibe the Great Guinness Diet. Just ask Derek Bennett. “You’ve got to be very, very strong,” says Mr. Bennett. “You’ve got to drink enough to be full, but not so much that you lose your judgment. And you can’t get drunk,” he adds.

His regimen? Five (or six) pints of Guinness each day — reasonably spaced at 11 a.m., 2, 6, 7 and 8 pm. (with his brother acting as his designated driver for the duration).

He’s done the diet four consecutive years as a charity fundraiser. After lining up sponsors who pledge their dollars for his pounds lost, the only thing Mr. Bennett ingests is water, coffee — and Guinness — over the five days before St. Patrick’s Day. Not only does he go Guinness, but he also goes public, with a 6 p.m. daily weigh-in at his place of business, The English Pub on Linwood Avenue.

This year he lost 12 pounds on the diet and raised several hundred dollars for the Shriners hospital burn unit in Tampa.

Many tout Guinness as a “meal in a glass,” but Mr. Bennett says it’s not a diet he would recommend.

What he does recommend, however, is life in Naples.

A fifth-generation “publican,” Mr. Bennett grew up in Portsmouth, England, where his family owned the same pub from 1805 to 1977. But Mr. Bennett never operated that pub; instead, he ran one in the south of Spain with his father. While there, he met a girl from Chicago and followed her to the United States. They married, and Mr. Bennett spent many years working for other people in the food and beverage industry. But he grew tired of the cold winters and suggested to his wife they move to San Diego. Rather than run

d for a suitcase, she suggested

e,p something more random: She offered her husband a dart, told him to throw it at a map

y using his left hand, and they

d. would go wherever it landed.

h, His aim was sufficiently south,

el but considerably east: Sanibel

Island. Not a bad miss.

ett

That was in 1984. Mr. Bennett

t relocated to Sanibel and went to work as the food and beverage manager at the Sundial Resort. His hard work and abilities resulted in a position he couldn’t refuse with Schuler’s in Marshall, Mich. But it only took one year for him to swear off the cold weather for good. He took a position with Darden Restaurants and came to Naples to work in management at the Olive Garden, and through his efforts, the company cultivated its catering business.

Mr. Bennett discovered he possessed a flair for both sales and catering, but working in corporate America took a toll on him. Just shy of his 40th birthday, doctors diagnosed him with Bell’s palsy, which caused him to take a long, hard look at his life, his work and his dreams.

He left Olive Garden and went to work for Tony Ridgway at Chef’s Garden. His next job, as bar manager at Pelican Bay’s Sandpiper Beach Club, led to opportunities to bartend at variety of gatherings, which led to even more catering gigs.

“I parlayed that in five years to a $700,000 catering business,” he says. Unlike many in that profession, he says, he reveled at the opportunity to work with brides preparing for their big event. “I love my brides,” he says, adding one of his catering peers even pleaded for his help with a particularly high-end affair, telling Mr. Bennett he didn’t have anyone with the skills necessary to hold the bride’s hand through the process.

Wedding catering expanded to sports catering and in turn, event catering in general. Life was good. And opportunity knocked again.

Mr. Bennett used to frequent the pub he now owns; when the original owners decided it was time for last call, he decided to buy it. A divorce and a failed attempt to make a go of a second location on Fort Myers Beach haven’t lessened his enthusiasm for what he does.

What’s on tap for his golden years? He wants to be just like his 85-year-old father, to whom he says: “Dad, I want to be you when I’m your age. You’ve got a son who owns a pub, you come down and drink for free, and you chase women.”

Who knows? Maybe Mr. Bennett’s son, Jack, will become a sixth-generation “publican,” and both men can carry on in the tradition of their fathers. 

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