in this issue
Aielli, Montes and Buchanan shared insight about their professional and personal passions and their commitment to excellence in the fine dining industry.
Sea Salt was established in 2008 after Chef Fabrizio and Ingrid Aielli permanently moved to Naples. They had visited the region for several years and decided to make Naples home. Inspired by Naples’ coastal location, owner/Chef Fabrizio worked to incorporate fresh seafood and other quality local products in a new concept. (The Aielli Group’s other restaurants include Barbatella, Dorona and Grappino in Naples, and Sea Salt St. Pete in St. Petersburg, Florida.)
The ladies of Sea Salt
“Jean-Louis was the most important influence in my life in terms of food and beverage,” Buchanan says. “He was part teacher, part confidant, a world traveler and the greatest French chef in America.”
“When I first met Fabrizio and Ingrid Aielli, I knew that one day I would work with them,” she says, and that opportunity arose in 2012. “I relocated my family from Las Vegas to Naples and have been the general manager of Sea Salt for over a decade.”
The wife and mother of two girls likes to unwind at the beach with family, entertain friends at home, enjoy the Naples dining scene and, yes, cook.
Still, she says, “I spend most of my time working at the restaurant. It is just in my blood to be involved.”
That characteristic need to be involved is likely the secret to success.
“In my opinion, integrity, humility and a willingness to learn — resilience and persistence — intuition, adaptability, communication skills and empathy are the key traits to a woman’s success,” she says.
The group’s mission is straight forward: “Food Matters, Community Matters and People Matter,” says owner/restaurateur Ingrid Aielli, adding, “We are Naples,” socially and philanthropically.
“We believe that quality, freshness and purity, paired with genuine hospitality are the foundation of an excellent dining experience.”
Not surprisingly, Aielli and her female managers value the staff as family, offering opportunities for professional growth.
Buchanan, general manager of Sea Salt Naples, says she was “born into the restaurant business,” and that food and beverage is part of her DNA.
Her love of front of the house led her to management, working with celebrated chef, the late Jean-Louis Palladin, at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., and later in his Las Vegas restaurant, then called Napa. The French-born Palladin is credited with introducing French Nouvelle cuisine to America and influenced a generation of French and American chefs.
“You are a student all your life in this industry.”
~ Tanya Buchanan, general manager, Sea Salt Naples
“I try to work with and inspire my team to always improve but never lose focus on the customer and the value of the experience we deliver,” Buchanan says. “If your service staff is improving while your cooks are improving and your chef and management are improving, it is a winning formula. You are a student all your life in this industry.”
It’s clear that adapting to the trends of business and being able to forecast strategically are skills the ladies of leadership at the Aielli Group have honed and continue to build on. The Neapolitan consumer has changed over the years and so have Naples restaurants, as the area continues to evolve as a dining destination.
“Coming from a Michelin-star background and being a part of the team who brought Michelin to Las Vegas in 2008 and 2009, I would like to helm the way to bring the Michelin Guide to Naples,” Buchanan says. “White-sand beaches; lofty, manicured golf courses; exquisite shopping; and a lively arts scene continue to attract the country’s most affluent people,” she says.
“From premier steakhouses to fresh Florida seafood, restaurants in Naples offer a wide variety of culinary experiences and deserve the opportunity to be rated by the Michelin Guide.”
OUT & ABOUT
Top spots for visitors on a Neapolitan Holiday
by Kathy Grey
It’s “season” in Southwest Florida, and Naples is the place to be. Visitors abound, and if your Neapolitan home is someone’s destination, we’ve collected some of the top things to do and see in and around the area.
We also recommend that you call ahead (or check online if live updates are available) to confirm opening and closing times and to purchase tickets/make reservations as appropriate.
Built in 1888 to serve as a dock for freight and passengers, the Naples Pier has been destroyed by fire and several hurricanes, but it has always been rebuilt. It’s a symbol of the city’s history and resilience, as it is now. Due to Hurricane Ian, only part of the pier is open to the public, and fishing is not allowed. Still, the pier is a top place for sunset watching and looking for dolphins out over the Gulf of Mexico.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is dedicated to preserving and protecting Southwest Florida’s natural environment. The citizen-founded Conservancy focuses on the protection of land, water and wildlife unique to Southwest Florida, and offers a nature center about our environment. Activities and programs include electric boat tours, kayak tours and rentals, nature trails, cinema days, daily educational programs and a discovery center. Its Little Explorer Play Zone is delightful for children. https://conservancy.org/
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
At the northern part of the Ten Thousand Islands on Florida’s Gulf Coast, there is a magical world of pristine, unspoiled, mysterious mangrove forests, protected waters and uplands. The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve occupies 110,000 acres of one of the last remaining North American mangrove estuaries undisturbed by human activity and home to animals, including about 150 species of birds, many of which are threatened and endangered. Take a tour of Rookery Bay to learn about this singularly natural oasis. https://rookerybay.org/
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, Florida
Consisting of about 13,000 acres of wetlands, flatwoods, marsh, wet prairie and the largest bald cypress forest in North America, a visit to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is in order for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers to view 130-foot trees and the sanctuary’s inhabitants, such as alligators, white-tailed deer, otters, red-bellied turtles and song- and wading birds as you walk the 2.25-mile boardwalk. https://corkscrew.audubon.org/
Bird Rookery Swamp, Naples, Florida
The Bird Rookery Swamp Trail is a nature trail, consisting of crushed shell paths, an 1,800-foot boardwalk and sandy/grassy berms that were once tram roads, that wind through one of CREW Land and Trust’s protected regions, offering more than 12 miles of hiking and biking and a glimpse into the natural beauty of Naples. The surrounding maple-cypress swamps are home to myriad wildlife, including birds, alligators, bobcats, otters, panthers and white-tailed deer. https://crewtrust.org/bird-rookery-swamp-trail/
Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
Set in a tropical garden planted in 1919, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens offers a near-mile paved path so you can stroll past 70 species of rare animals living among exotic plants native to their natural habitats, including lions, giraffes, pythons, monkeys, bears and rare creatures not commonly seen. A catamaran can take you to the monkey island, a place that primates call home. https://www.napleszoo.org/
Baker Park and Gordon River Greenway Park
Opened in 2019, Baker Park is a beautiful 15-acre park located on the Gordon River, across the street from the Naples Dog Park. Baker Park Loop is a 1.3-mile trail that features a beautiful view of the river. (Dogs are permitted on the trail but must be kept on a leash.) Park features include a kayak launch, boat dock, outdoor fitness facility, three rentable picnic shelters with grills, bike paths, playgrounds, splash pad and a pedestrian bridge over the Gordon River with connection to the 2.5-mile Gordon River Greenway Park path.
Designed for passive recreational activities like walking, jogging, biking and Rollerblading, the Gordon River Greenway Park path meanders through six different native plant communities and is leashed-dog friendly. https://www.gordonrivergreenway.org/
Lowdermilk Beach Park
Lowdermilk Beach Park reopened in February. With fine white sand, it’s one of Naples’ most popular beachfront parks, even after Hurricane Ian. It’s the go-to for family picnics, Florida sunsets and fun celebrations, and has two lovely gazebos you can rent for special occasions and celebrations. https://www.naplesgov.com/parksrec/page/lowdermilk-park
Clam Pass Park, Naples, Florida
This park with beach access is located in North Naples near the Naples Grande Beach Resort and boasts 35 acres of preserved coastal habitat with a three-quarter-mile boardwalk that leads to the beach without affecting the plants, flowers and butterflies. It continues through a dense mangrove forest, home to eagles, wading shorebirds, hawks and osprey. With a tidal bay area, Clam Pass Park is a breeding ground and nursery for marine and other species of wildlife. https://www.collierparks.com/collier_park/clam-pass-park/
Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge
Spanning 35,000 acres in Collier County, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is an important refuge for the rich diversity of native wildlife and threatened mangrove habitats of this region. The refuge is home to small coastal pockets of tropical hardwoods such as gumbo-limbo, cabbage palms, oak trees and one of the largest mangrove forests in North America. The West Indian manatee, Atlantic loggerhead turtle, peregrine falcon, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and about 190 species of birds make their homes in the refuge. Outdoor activities include boating, fishing and hiking the 2.4-mile Marsh Trail. https://www.fws.gov/refuge/ten-thousand-islands
Bird Gardens of Naples
The Bird Gardens of Naples is a rescue and sanctuary located in Corkscrew Swamp, close to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, that is dedicated to the welfare and conservation of wild parrots in captivity and offering an outreach and placement program that looks after the birds in a safe environment. Owned by Keriellen Lohrman, and helped run by volunteers, the Bird Gardens of Naples boasts a variety of beautiful vegetation and flora that create a natural environment for the conservation of wild parrots. Considered among the most romantic things to do in Naples, stroll through the gardens and miles of winding walking trails, surrounded by these magnificent birds. https://thebirdgardensofnaples.org/
Auto enthusiasts will love Revs Institute for Automotive Research, a tribute to the history of American automobiles. As part of the Collier Collection, at Revs, you can view more than 100 cars built between 1896 and 1995 as well as exhibits of research books, images and documents that catalogue automotive history. Restoration technicians keeps all cars in the collection in perfect working order, many demonstrating their engineering at car races around the world.
The Baker Museum, Naples, FL
The Baker Museum is a highly acclaimed fine arts museum in Southwest Florida that showcases an array of modern and contemporary art. The three-story, 30,000 square-foot museum is home to 15 galleries featuring a variety of world-class exhibitions, permanent collections and traveling exhibitions. The museum also has a glass dome conservatory and an educational resource room. Dale Chihuly installations are dotted about the The Baker Museum, which also offers a wealth of educational programs for all ages. https://artisnaples.org/baker-museum/
Golisano Children's Museum of Naples
Known as C’mon, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples provides adventures in learning and experiential play for kids with a variety of hands-on and interactive exhibits. Children can take a journey through the swamps of the Everglades, climb a giant banyan tree, weave through a maze or experiment with the water play station, exploring the wonders of sea, sun, Earth and sky. https://www.cmon.org/
Collier County Museum
Collier County Museum explores the history of the region and the lives of the first settlers and their families who resided here more than 100 years ago, featuring exhibits and displays of local history, from prehistoric mastodons, the Calusa Indian civilization, the Seminole people and traditional arts and crafts. Native gardens surround the museum, with examples of historic Naples cottages and a traditional Seminole village or Calusa Indian camp as it was centuries ago. As a plus, the museum’s shady courtyard is ideal for a quiet picnic. https://colliermuseums.com/
BE OUR GUEST
‘Company’s Coming!’ Make it Joyful
Helpful hints for Neapolitan style hosting
by Kathy Grey
As guests roll into town to enjoy your company and our abundant sunshine, a host’s tender touches can make all the difference during their stay. In addition to your home being a place to lay their heads, it becomes a haven — a warm retreat.
It’s always good to know in advance if your guests have made outside plans during their stay, perhaps to visit other people locally, or if they have attractions in mind that they’d like to see. But for personal touches, we asked our readers to share their secrets to hosting their guests’ successful sojourns.
⚜ I like to leave a carafe of filtered water by the bed. And always be sure that any bar of soap for their use is fresh from the wrapper. ~ Pam Clayson
⚜ Create a clean environment throughout the house. Place flowers in the home and in the guest room. Leave towels and washcloths in the room, perhaps with samples of shampoo, soap and skin lotion. Ask in advance about guests’ dietary limitations. ~ Jan Neff
⚜ I welcome them with a basket of made-in-Florida items, like orange marmalade, a small bag of shells, my favorite sunscreen, aloe vera and some sparkling water with a little welcome note that includes my Wi-Fi password.
I lay two white terry robes on the bed and have white slippers for them.
I put fresh flowers in the room, have empty hangers in the closet and a luggage rack. I empty the guest bath cabinet so they can use it for their toiletries.
I buy special bath products from the Westin Hotel: shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion.
I ask in advance what they like to drink and make sure I have it on hand.
I make a snack, because travelers are always hungry, and I have lots of fresh fruit and veggies from the farmers market in the fridge. ~ Sally Wilson
⚜I was selected by my clergy to house an international author who was invited to Naples to give multiple lectures and seminars.
After I got her food preferences for the refrigerator, I placed some shells, books about Naples and some native, fresh-cut flowers in her room. She felt the “beach” motif and commented on how it was the polar opposite of the northern snow she’d just left.
I set an outdoor breakfast table with fresh oranges and native foliage to enhance the Florida feel. Between her scheduled commitments, we toured the nightlife of 5th Avenue, Naples Botanical Garden, took in the amazing sunset and walked the beaches.
We enjoyed what we residents sometimes take for granted. I saw Naples through the eyes of one who has traveled throughout the globe. Her remarks and photos were stellar.
My commentary on having guests in Naples is not to do lot of prep, but to share the amenities Neapolitans have at their fingertips.
She commented that Naples is like a paradise and neighborhood wrapped in one sunny and friendly package. ~ Marcy Aizenshtat
YOUR PERFECT HOLIDAY
Have a Dream Day in Mind?
Make Up Your Own Holiday Day is March 26
by Kathy Grey
Thomas and Ruth Roy, owners of Wellcat Holidays, had the idea for Make Up Your Own Holiday Day and set it for March 26.
The Roys also created about 80 “unofficial” holidays, some pretty eccentric, including Answer Your Cat’s Question Day (Jan. 22), More Herbs, Less Salt Day (Aug. 29) and Falling Needles Family Fest (Dec. 30).
Altruistic as they are, the couple didn’t feel right having a sort-of monopoly on special days, so the Roys embedded another holiday, one that lets the public decide what they want to celebrate. And so, Make Up Your Own Holiday Day was established on March 26 in the early 2000s.
We reached out to our Southwest Florida readers, family and friends for the special holiday they’d like to make up. Here’s what a few of them said:
Smile Day “Everyone do something that will put a smile on people’s faces. It can be as simple as a hello or good morning on a walk or a phone call. Just make someone smile, and you will smile, too.” ~ Gail Newton
Listen to Music Day (celebrated solo or in a group setting) ~ Kerry Fischel
Support Your Famers Market Day “Go to your local farmers market and feel renewed. Talk directly with vendors who grow, catch, gather and prepare your food. Get super fresh, super healthy produce that’s still a bargain.” ~ Charlie Holiday
National No Kids Day ~ Briana Robinson, mother of three boys ages 1, 3 and 10.
National Self-Compassion Day ~ Stacey Chadwick Brown, counselor, MA, LMHC
Lobster Ravioli Day ~ Paul Anarumo, a Rhode Island native who spells it “lobstah”
National Parks & Recreation Day ~ Daniel Kutcher
National Food as Art Day “Everyone will want to eat it up.” ~ Kathy Grey and Marsha Litsinger
Hey Neighbor Day “A day to do something nice for your neighbors or a big celebration of groups of people” in the neighborhood. ~ Sue Huff
Love Day — celebrated numerous times throughout the year. “Love is the highest vibration of emotions. What could be better than the world healing from, and sharing in, love?” ~ Debby Frenkel
We did not cross-reference these contributed ideas with some that may appear on sites such as National Today. (Why spoil someone’s special day?)
But we’re hoping that, year after year, March 26 will hold a unique meaning to every one of you.
Inspiring ideas for when friends and family come to visit
Naples residents, both year-round and part-time, know that friends and family love to visit them — especially between Thanksgiving and Easter. This winter-and-spring stretch is what Southwest Floridians call “season,” notable for its busy traffic that delivers guests seeking a classic Neapolitan holiday.
Speaking of holiday, our readers have weighed in about the upcoming “Make Up Your Own Holiday” day, with what they’d personally like to celebrate. It’s our hope that their input will empower you to consider your own March 26 holiday honorific.
We also feature the work and lives of the women of the fine dining restaurant, Sea Salt Naples. These powerful leaders discuss their success in a typically male-dominated industry.
We hope you’ll be inspired to make your heartfelt Neapolitan holidays the best ones possible.
Salt of the Earth
A look at Sea Salt female leaders’ vision in an often male-dominated industry
by Kathy Grey
“‘Salt of the Earth: The type of person who deals with difficult or demanding situations without making any unnecessary fuss.’” ~ Collins Dictionary
This describes the leading ladies of the fine-dining restaurant, Sea Salt Naples, part of the Aielli Group’s five Florida-based restaurants.
They are: Ingrid Aielli, owner/restaurateur/philanthropist; Lili Montes, chief operating officer; Liset Zelaya, director of wine and spirit; and Tanya Buchanan, general manager of Sea Salt Restaurant Naples.
These women buck the perception that, as a 2022 headline in Restaurant Business proclaimed, “Women dominate the restaurant workforce, except at the top.” The ladies of Sea Salt Naples would beg to differ.