By Kelly Fores

Tom Carney was living in Cape May, New Jersey when he and his wife, Karen, came to Florida the Memorial Day weekend of 1998, specifically to find a restaurant to operate.

Having held a liquor license since he was 21, Tom has always been in the restaurant business. Within six months of his visit to Venice, TJ Carney’s on West Venice Avenue was open and going strong.

Having success with TJ Carney’s, a popular spot for locals and tourists for nearly 12 years, Tom said, “The restaurant required very little of my time, so I was playing golf seven days a week. I was bored and sort of keeping my eyes open for a new restaurant opportunity. One day I noticed a different for sale sign in the window [of the old Landmark Restaurant], I called the number, and shortly after the deal was done. I’m really doing this as a means of security for my kids.”

The road to his kids’ security, in the form of Pineapples Island Grille, has not been without surprises. Tom has been working on opening his latest venture for over a year, with one particular decision causing all the grief: the exterior color choice. Romaine, to be exact.

Tom readily admits he questioned the color choice of his decorator, but he did follow the City of Venice processes for approval since his selection was not part of the 45 pre-approved colors for the historic section of town. He says misinformation on the parts of all involved parties led to the situation, which was highly publicized, as well as the fact that the groan-causing-green was very prominent before his yellow- and white-striped awning went up over the large outdoor dining patio. Tom has received approval to keep the color for three years, at which time he must re-paint the exterior with an authorized color.

“Most of the community embraces the change to the location and the idea behind the restaurant,” said Tom. After the Landmark Restaurant shut abruptly several years ago, the location became an eyesore. Not one to dwell on the color controversy, Tom said, “It’s time to focus on the 100 people I’ll be employing and the food I’ll be serving.” Opening such a large dining complex during a time of recession is risky, but Tom is confident the food, service and ambiance will combine to create another long-lasting restaurant.

The day of the interview for this story, crews were busy outside planting palm trees, and inside working on upholstering the booth seats, installing wood trim, and outfitting the kitchen. Rich with wainscoting, an array of colorful floral fabrics, swirling flocked wallpaper, pineapple-shaped light fixtures and exotic decor appropriate for Chef Eric Berkowitz’s Caribbean-themed menu, the completed interior promises to be a feast for the eyes.

Broken into different seating areas, the 15,000-square-foot establishment will accommodate 140 people in the plush main dining areas. The sports bar area will also seat 140 with televisions and a stage for live music. The outdoor dining area, at a staggering 4,000 square feet, is sub-divided into a 50-foot-long bar and sections for tables, with the full menu being available to outdoor diners. Live entertainment is also planned for the outside area seven nights a week during season. Whether or not you like the exterior color, there is a spot for everyone inside or out at Pineapples Island Grille.

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