Southwest Florida Roundup
Oh Suzanne: Chalet Suzanne still awaits a buyer
The restaurant sits empty. The inn no longer takes reservations. And the airstrip where Robert Redford once arrived in a biplane now attracts only wildlife. For years, Chalet Suzanne, a little more than 20 miles southeast of Lakeland, drew sightseers, fine-dining fans and the occasional movie star to eastern Polk County. But since it closed two years ago, no buyers have stepped forward to resume operations.
The historic property had a colorful past. In 1931, newly widowed Bertha Hinshaw turned her lakeside home into a restaurant to support her two young children. After a fire destroyed the restaurant during World War II, her son, Carl Jr., rebuilt it using salvaged materials. The result was a hodge-podge of pastel-colored buildings with slanted ceilings and wood floors that weren’t exactly level.
Over the next six decades, Chalet Suzanne developed a reputation as an off-beat, out-of-the-way place to eat and stay. Famous guests included Burt Reynolds, Dolly Parton and Johnny Carson. It produced a line of canned soups sold in supermarkets nationwide, and its Moon Soup traveled into space with the Apollo 15 and 16 astronauts. In 2002, Chalet Suzanne was named to Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon Hall of Fame.
Eventually, however, it fell out of favor with discriminating diners. “The world moved on, and not enough people were coming to make it a viable enterprise,” says Eric Hinshaw, a third-generation owner. “People today are not looking for kitschy and old.
Last year, an auction failed to yield a buyer for the 130-acre property — though more than 1,000 people showed up to bid on its furniture, dishes, linens and other mementos.
“It’s sitting there for the right person,” Hinshaw says, noting that Legoland is only a short drive away. “It’s right on the edge of a lot of stuff.”
Founded in 2007, St. Petersburg- based InformedDNA provides genetic counseling services via phone to patients and doctors nationwide. CEO David Nixon says advances in preventive medicine are driving consumer interest in genetic testing. Meanwhile, more insurers are requiring pretest counseling to cut down on inappropriate ordering of expensive tests. “If you get the wrong test, you’re going to get the wrong answer and do the wrong things downstream,” he says.
The company, which employs about 50 geneticists in the U.S., recently launched a national program for UnitedHealthcare to manage its hereditary cancer testing.
Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa hired Kevin Pickett as executive vice president and chief philanthropy officer. Pickett previously led fundraising efforts at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Joseph DiFonzo left Tampa-based Syniverse Holdings as chief technology officer. The company gave no explanation for his departure.
Hodges University in Naples named Donald Wortham president. He previously was vice president of strategic initiatives and executive director of extended studies at the College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota.
AVE MARIA — Naples-based medical device maker Arthrex plans to add 350 jobs as part of a 218,000-sq.-ft. expansion of its manufacturing facility in Ave Maria.
BRADENTON — Swiss technology company SpecPage moved its North American branch office to Bradenton from Warwick, R.I.
CHARLOTTE COUNTY — The Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association paid nearly $21 million for a 31-acre waterfront tract that it plans to set aside as a wildlife and marine refuge in the Placida area.
CLEARWATER — Cybersecurity firm KnowBe4 raised $8 million in funding.
FORT MYERS — Cancer care provider 21st Century Oncology reached a $34.7-million settlement with the federal government over charges it billed for radiation procedures that were not medically necessary and at times improperly performed.
LAKELAND — Florida Polytechnic University signed agreements with organizations in Brazil and Morocco to develop student and faculty exchange programs, student internships and joint research projects. Publix is expanding to Virginia with two stores planned for the Bristol and Richmond areas. The grocery chain posted $32.4 billion in sales in 2015, up 5.9% from the year before, as profit rose 13.2% to $2 billion.
LAKEWOOD RANCH — Centauri Insurance, a property and casualty insurance company, plans to begin construction this year on a new headquarters with up to 30,000 square feet.
MANATEE COUNTY — Labinal Power Systems, an electrical systems subsidiary of the French aerospace group Safran, will expand in the Bradenton area and create 84 jobs. The expansion includes Safran’s relocation of subsidiary Aerosource from Somerset, N.J., to Manatee County. Triax Precision Manufacturing, which bought Sarasota-based machining company Hi-NuTec last year, moved to southern Manatee County, where it occupies a 14,000-sq.-ft. space near Sarasota- Bradenton International Airport.
NAPLES — Fractional private jet provider Flexjet opened a private terminal at the Naples Municipal Airport.
PALM HARBOR — Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market, an organic grocery chain, will open a store at Palm Harbor Commons, its first area location.
PALMETTO — En-Vision America, a life-sciences company that makes products to help people with visual impairments, moved its sales and administrative functions from Normal, Ill., to a 10,000-sq.-ft. facility.
SARASOTA — Former pro golfer Greg Norman’s Great White Shark Opportunity Fund bought Sarasota toy company Laser Pegs for an undisclosed amount.
ST. PETERSBURG — Five years after Johns Hopkins acquired All Children’s Hospital, the St. Petersburg hospital changed its name to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Mayor Rick Kriseman named Colliers International Tampa as his choice to manage the Pier District when it opens in 2018.
TAMPA — IT consulting firm Cohesion moved its headquarters from suburban Cincinnati to Tampa. The company will get $600,000 in state and local incentives if it creates 100 jobs within six years. Bloomin’ Brands plans to close 14 Bonefish Grill locations as part of a restructuring. Global IT company Wipro will pay $460 million for Tampa-based HealthPlan Services, a third-party administrator for health insurers. Yacht StarShip Dining Cruises launched a fleet of pirate-themed water taxis along the city’s riverfront. BioSpine Institute opened a clinic in the Westshore area for outpatient spine surgery and non-surgical spine treatments.