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Bonita & Estero Magazine

Old 41 Brings a Taste of Philly to Southwest Florida

Back in 2007, Tony Backos brought his 40 years of experience in his Philadelphia-area, family-owned restaurants to Southwest Florida and opened Old 41 Restaurant. Since then, it has gained a loyal following that continues to grow each year. According to the website, "Backos believes that his restaurant's success and longevity is dependent on consistently great home-cooked food and exemplary service."

We caught up with Backos to discuss the popular menu items, Philly food, and the reasons for the restaurant's success in Southwest Florida.

Tell us about Old 41. When did it open up? What was the main motivation for starting your business?

Old 41 Restaurant was opened in April 2007 after relocating to Southwest Florida from the Philadelphia area. My family lineage is Greek and my family has a long history of opening and operating Greek diners in the Philly area. We wanted to bring classic American homemade breakfast and lunch dining to Southwest Florida in its original and truest form. Being from the Philly area, we have many hard-to-find, regional food items on our menu, including Taylor Ham Pork Roll and Scrapple. This caters to the many transplants who retire down here but miss the foods they had growing up.

What's something you wish people knew about your business?

Most of our dishes are homemade, including the Home-cooked Roast Beef and Turkey, homemade soups, Sausage Gravy, and Creamed Chipped Beef.

Personally speaking, what is your favorite thing about your business?

I’m a people person who likes to get to know people and make them feel at home. Meeting people and having them enjoy our dishes that remind them of their youth is truly satisfying to me. After nearly 15 years, we are now seeing families that come in whose children were infants, now teenagers, and they grew up eating my food on Sundays. It’s being a part of their history and watching families enjoy my dishes year after year that keeps me going.

What is a common question you get? Your answer to it?

"Is it hard running a restaurant?" And the answer to it is always the same: It’s hard running a successful restaurant, but it's always much harder running an unsuccessful one. Happily, we have enjoyed a very strong following and very loyal clientele over the years that made the journey very rewarding.

What's the biggest compliment you've received about your business?

How good everything is, and most importantly, how consistent the food is. Consistency is the key to a successful restaurant. 

What is your most popular dish? And, personally, what is your favorite?

Our most popular dish has got to be the Philly Cheesesteak. There are so many bad versions of Philly Cheesesteaks outside of Philly that we list ours on the menu as a "Real" Philly Cheesesteak. As I like to say, we’ve disappointed no Philadelphians yet who come down and try it.

My favorite menu item though is the third generation family recipe: Rice Pudding. It’s a recipe that has been passed down through generations and everyone who tries it hands down says it is the best they have ever had.

Are you involved with or do you support any local nonprofits, community organizations, or causes?

I try to help our community whenever possible. We help sponsor the Bonita Blues Festival every year, which benefits the Bonita Assistance Office. I always participate and donate gift certificates to many of our community-based charitable benefits and fundraisers.

Why did you choose Bonita Springs? 

My mom and sister moved here 25 years ago and there was a need for a good family breakfast and lunch restaurant in the area. So, we decided to fill the need and open Old 41.

Do you have any upcoming events, specials, or new items/services that people should know about?

We constantly feature changing breakfast and lunch specials and we also offer Blue Zones inspired menu items for those looking for healthier choices.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business? Have you rebounded? Did you do anything special given the circumstances?

COVID has been extremely difficult for restaurants in particular. With the mandatory closings, we had re-opened as a "necessities" market at the beginning of the crisis, offering the hard-to-find items, including toilet paper, masks, hand sanitizer, and staple food items. It helped our community and helped keep the lights burning until we could re-open again.