F.M. Don’s Opening


Hospitality is their middle name
Evans and Socha launch SoEva Hospitality Group

by Sue Wade

Punta Gorda, Florida – June 12, 2017 – Within less than three years, Punta Gorda developer Chris Evans has become pivotal to a larger team that’s changing not only the face of Marion Avenue but also a rural community near Schenectady, New York.

The same mission—hospitality—now energizes three ongoing enterprises in two states.

Said Evans, “Our culture is simple—a genuine desire to meet and exceed the expectations of our guests.”

In October 2014, shortly after he unlocked the long-shut iron gates to The Turtle Club Coastal Tavern and Claw Bar, the place was quickly pronounced Harbor Style magazine’s “Best New Restaurant.”

When New York developer William Socha became a regular there, Evans’s next project followed naturally. He and Socha partnered first at The Turtle Club, then almost immediately began developing a northern twin—The Glass Tavern in Glenville, Schenectady County, New York—which opened in summer 2016.

On May 1, Evans, Socha, and former Trabue Executive Chef Keith Meyer sealed the purchase of the eight-year-old Jack’s on Marion, owned by Bill and Janet Minerich in downtown Punta Gorda’s Sunloft Center since 2012.

Meyer, trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York, with former sous-chef positions at two Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurants, brings expertise in French cooking technique to a kitchen three times Trabue’s size and a restaurant of 260 seats.

“For us,” said Evans, “every restaurant has several keys to success: management, quality, capital, location and, of course, concept.”

The concept for his newest restaurant venture, he said, is historical, honoring his grandfather, F. M. “Don” Donelson, the Fishermen’s Village developer who was as central to the evolution of Punta Gorda nearly 50 years ago as Evans is today.

From its new name—F.M. Don’s—to the classic simplicity of its logo, its interior, and its menu, the establishment embodies old-fashioned authenticity. It’s a place for everyone, where they can find not just impeccably prepared entrees like Meyer’s famous Three Suns Ranch Bison Meatloaf, but also casual bar bites (3 p.m. until close) including short rib sliders and escargot, affordable small plates, and plates for sharing.

Said Meyer, “We want to keep people happy who’ve been coming to Jack’s for years, while injecting unique energy into this growing town.”

To come in the future: a catering division and a banquet space with private bar, for meetings of 50 or more, in Sunloft Center’s Suite 111, to the right of the restaurant on Marion Avenue.

The transition from Jack’s to F.M. Don’s began gradually at first but was realized more rapidly than even its management team had projected. By mid-May, Chef Keith was already acclimating to his new kitchen and soon introduced a new menu, weeks ahead of schedule.

Originally expected to evolve over six to eight months, F.M. Don’s will now see its ribbon cutting by the end of June.

At the same time, Evans and Socha have launched SoEva Hospitality Group, a management-company umbrella for its three different enterprises and more to come.

The F.M. Don’s logo, with a signature message promoting “genuine hospitality” and “classic provisions,” underscores a promise of hospitality that’s shared among all SoEva Hospitality Group venues—including The Turtle Club, Punta Gorda’s “purveyors of hospitality,” and The Glass Tavern’s upstate New York “hometown hospitality.”

As Evans summed it up, “Genuine hospitality is a feeling our guests have while they are at our establishments, and when they leave. That is what we do.”

Also running through all three settings is the vibrant beat of jazz and blues, already heard in F.M. Don’s and live weekly at The Turtle Club, where manager Jim Lawson, former owner of Marion Avenue’s Opus, coordinates special events such as Bourbon & Blues Nights, Wine & Jazz Nights, and Brunch & Blues.

The latest SoEva manager uniting both Turtle Club and F.M. Don’s is Nate McKelvy, formerly general manager at The Captain’s Table in Punta Gorda and Boca Grande’s historic Gasparilla Inn & Club.

Said Evans, “We’re fortunate to be working with the best hospitality professionals as we continue to serve our guests and grow our operations.”