The Chop House at Lake Sumter officially opens for business Monday. And to say that Villagers will find top-quality steaks with a touch of elegance like no other restaurant in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown would be a huge understatement.
The eatery, which is located next to Barnes & Noble in Lake Sumter Landing, will open its doors Monday at 11 a.m. Inside, patrons will find touches of class featuring custom-made light fixtures, comfortable padded booths, an exquisite full-service bar featuring a gorgeous marble top and charming lamps and a staff eager to please.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be able to bring this new restaurant to The Villages,” said owner Fred Karimipour, of FMK Restaurant Group. “Many of our loyal customers have expressed an interest in having a high-end restaurant here and to be able to provide that for them in such a beautiful setting is really very special for me and my entire staff. We couldn’t be happier and we can’t wait to officially open the doors.”
The Chop House will feature a variety of prime steak choices, as well as a robust menu offering pork chops, seafood, chicken and salads, among other dishes. A full-service bar in the back of the restaurant will offer a variety of drink choices, as well as craft cocktails. And an outside bar and seating area will offer diners a chance to enjoy the Florida sunshine and the ambience of Lake Sumter Landing.
“The restaurant not only has a diverse menu consisting of fresh, hand-crafted steaks, but also offers a creek-side menu that offers a lighter fare,” Karimipour said.
The staff of the Chop House got a chance to practice and work out the bugs this weekend with two “Friends and Family” events that saw a variety of residents from across The Villages enjoying delicious meals and customer service that many establishments can only dream about.
“This is absolutely amazing,” said Sue Senicka, of the Village of LaBelle North. “It’s exactly what we need in The Villages. We have nothing like this. The steaks, the chops, the service, the atmosphere – it’s just unbelievable. It’s exactly what we needed,” the former mayor and longtime trustee of Westmont, Ill., added.
General Manager Michael Dillenburg, who also opened FMK’s Bluefin Grill & Bar last September, said the first night of serving guests went exactly as planned – a fact that left a huge smile on the face of the man who was charged with hiring the restaurant’s staff.
“I love the fact that you got to see folks on the floor with big smiles,” he said. “You can tell they’re excited about it. You can tell that the guests are super-excited about it. And honestly, I feel like this is going to be something new.”
Dillenburg said customers at Bluefin and FMK’s other restaurants – Evans Prairie Country Club, Belle Glade Country Club, Bonifay Country Club, Orange Blossom Hills Country Club and Scooples Ice Cream Parlor – had make it quite clear that they wanted to see a high-end restaurant in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.
“We listened to everything that all of them said and we didn’t reinvent the wheel by any means,” Dillenburg said. “We just listened to all of their feedback and we took that and we opened a restaurant with it.”
While the concept for the Chop House is different than other restaurants owned by FMK, the idea of guests receiving quality service from a genuine staff is exactly the same.
“The three things that it takes to be in hospitality are the mind, two hands and a heart,” Dillenburg said. “The heart is the most important thing that you can’t train. So as long as you find the heart, the mind can be trained and so can the hands. So I looked for the heart and we ran with that.”
Twin sisters Sheila and Shelley Graham offered plenty of praise for both the staff and the meals they enjoyed on Friday night. Sheila even went so far as to call it perfection and said it will be great to avoid traveling to Orlando or other cities to enjoy an upscale, fine-dining experience.
“From the moment we walked in until dessert and departure, everything flowed very smoothly,” said the Village of Pine Ridge resident. “It’s definitely what this area needed.”
Shelley said she appreciated the “cozy ambience” and the way her party was welcomed to the Chop House when they arrived.
“It’s about the quality when you walk into a restaurant,” she said. “You want good food and good, friendly service. I believe this restaurant has everything.”
Bruce and Judy Broeren, of the Village of Bonita, agreed. In fact, they were all smiles in the parking lot after celebrating their 33rd wedding anniversary at the Chop House on Friday night.
“Everything was fabulous and we’ll be back again soon,” Bruce promised.
Dillenburg said some people have pointed out to him that three restaurants – Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar, Honest John’s Whiskey and Provisions and TGI Fridays – failed in the same location. He said it’s important to note that all three featured basically the same concept – wings and burgers – which are available at multiple locations throughout Lake Sumter Landing.
“We want to give them something different,” he said. “We want them to be excited about this location and I feel like the menu is exactly what they’re looking for.”