Long-term residents of The Villages and surrounding areas, and especially those living on the Historic Side, are thrilled to know the Orange Blossom Hills Country Club restaurant has now re-opened. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place next Monday, Nov. 17, but from day one, the establishment has already been doing a thriving business.
Fred Karimipour, who oversees three other prime Villages country club dining locations — at Bonifay, Evans Prairie and at the brand new Belle Glade Country Club (on Moyer Loop at the southernmost tip of The Villages) — is directing operations at this new hillside location as well. Karimipour is a successful restauranteur, whose well trained crews bring experience and charm to this long awaited eatery.
“We didn’t even have the official opening yet, you know, with the ribbon,” Director of Operations, Jose Rodriguez, said with a grin, “and look at this place. It’s just about full. We haven’t even had any publicity. This is all word-of-mouth, one person tells another or sends e-mails, and they are all coming to try the food. Business has been very good.”
Tab Grier, of Buttonwood Village, who golfs Tuesdays and Thursdays inside and outside The Villages with a 24-man group, stopped in to the new OBH restaurant for lunch. “Five of us got here early,” Grier said, pointing to four other friends: Bonita Villager Al Epps, James McKinney, Bernard Gates from Village Palo Alto and Ken Johnson from Pennecamp Village. “The rest of the fellows will be along shortly.” “We used to enjoy eating here before it closed, and we’re looking forward to trying the fish and chips today,” Epps added.
Out on the new terrace, shaded by a huge awning, Orange Blossom Gardens residents Bob Ahrens, Jack Konot and Bob Kolbeck were relaxing with a pitcher of brew.
“You can’t beat this,” Kolbeck said. “The weather, the view and good friends.” Jack and Jill Davie, two and a half year residents of OBG raved about their shrimp taco and potato croquet upon leaving the restaurant.
“We have really missed having a good restaurant here,” 12-year Orange Blossom Gardens resident, Doris Gonzalez said. “It was closed for a long time. My husband and I are pool people, and we missed that too. With the tiki hut gone, there’s more space for pool chairs.” “The food and prices were very good at the old restaurant,” Connelly said, “but it really needed a face lift — so this renovation was long past due. “We like things close by,” her husband Bob said. “We rather not have to drive a distance to go out for dinner.”
Originally built in the mid-1980s, when The Villages was much smaller and there were few if any good eateries nearby. Orange Blossom Hills was very popular. The beautiful hilltop views by the water tower are enticing to watch sunrises, sunsets and people used to go there to watch space shuttle launches from the Cape.
Twenty-year Country Club Hills Village resident, Joan Donlin, recalled when she first moved here. “This was a ‘white glove’ kind of place, with linen tablecloths — it was really fancy,” Donlin said. “[Villages founder] Harold [Schwartz] played golf here and would frequently eat here too. He would talk with everyone — and Oscar Feliu used to sing and play his guitar in the lounge at 7 p.m.
“It’s perfect,” she continued. “They did a beautiful job. I haven’t been to this owner’s other places, but people say their food and service is excellent. I’m excited about having this so close to my home.”
Hilltop golf course starter and OBG resident, Leonard Eichackor, hasn’t had time to try the restaurant, but said a lot of people have been talking about the food. Eighteen or nineteen-year OBG resident and pool monitor, Gary Givens, said the pool adds to the restaurant’s nice view. “This pool is very different — it’s shape, and all the friendly people,” Givens said. The waterfall muffles the sounds of people talking and makes it nice and quiet. You can come here a stranger, and when you leave, you will have two or three new friends. If you’re new, someone is going to talk with you and make your stay a little better. There’s just no place like The Villages — they offer everything here.”