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Munch at the Box Plus says goodbye to Fort Myers Beach

Venerable diner was sold this month after more than 30 years on the island

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Aug 26, 2020

Munch at the Box, a mainstay diner on Fort Myers Beach since the 1980's, has been sold. Florida Local Real Estate owner Ron Turrisi (left to right), wife Mary Jo Bowers, Munch at the Box owner Lisa Johnson and wife Dana Raco completed the sale this month.

For more than 30 years, Lisa Johnson fed folks living on and visiting Fort Myers Beach at The Munch Box Plus.

Johnson’s parents Fran and Ralph purchased the diner at its former location at Santini Plaza in the mid-1980’s. Since 1989, the family operated the eatery where waitresses served eggs, bacon, fish and chips in tie-dye shirts at the intersection of Estero Boulevard and Flamingo St.

This month, Johnson sold the building, and served her last customers. The building with a peace sign hanging inside next to a sign that said “Life is a Beach,” sold this month through realtor Ron Turrisi. Turrisi, owner of Florida Local Real Estate LLC, called the restaurant “one of those local landmarks” that was “very popular in season.” Turrisi said the new owners, a limited liability company based out of Broward County, are looking at retail possibilities for the building.

The building did not take long to sell. Johnson said the property was on the market for just 10 days.

Johnson said COVID-19 was just too much for her business to handle. “Mom’s and pops are falling by the wayside,” she said. Aside from a six-week lull after restaurants were restricted from dining in by an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the diner kept open until this month. The diner dealt with restrictions – first with 25% occupancy, then 50% occupancy and with social distancing – it wasn’t easy. Business during the pandemic was “not much to speak of,” Johnson said.

It also didn’t help that the Estero Boulevard construction project has dragged on in front of her building. Heavy trucks and machinery are currently parked in front of the diner for the ongoing rehabilitation project.

Johnson said her family took out a loan to get into the restaurant business and to help her with her goal of running a diner intead of heading off to college. They started out behind where Skye’s Restaurant is at Santini Plaza before purchasing the building on Estero and Flamingo, where Bonnie n Clyde’s used to stand.

Her father Ralph, a Navy veteran, was a longtime employee of Semmer Electric. Her family moved down from Massachusetts 43 years ago, Johnson said. Her grandfather, Ralph R. Johnson led the congregation at St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church on the Beach in the 1950’s and oversaw the construction of the parish house at Williams Drive.

Johnson fears the COVID-19 pandemic is hurting the restaurant industry. “I think I got out ahead of the game,” she said. “I still wake up at 5:30, ready to make some bacon.”

Johnson said she jokes that she has served millions of people. Johnson said it was “fun” running the business but that “the business side is tough.”

For now, Johnson is enjoying being on Fort Myers Beach, where she lives, and cooking. “I get to stay on the Beach,” she said. Johnson said she will miss a “very large family of customers” from across the world.

“Feeding is touching lives,” Johnson said.