Founded in 1966, the Cape Coral Italian American Club is breathing new life into its membership with more weekly activities and an executive chef.
President Cathy Sangiovanni explained that the club was on the verge of closing last year due to financial challenges. Elected in November, she hopes to turn things around for the group, saving what her family helped start.
Nearly 50 years ago, her parents, Joe and Grace Raso, founded the club with another couple, Jim and Shirley Pampinella. In 1968, the building was constructed.
"There were very few Italians here at the time," Sangiovanni said, adding that the organization was formed and grew as more moved to the area.
In the late 1960s, membership swelled to about 600.
"They were just kind of looking for a social venue," she said.
When Sangiovanni took up the reins late last year, she made it her goal to retain the existing membership but also attract the newer generations.
"There's many members here that were original members - my mission is to get younger people involved," she said, adding that she wants to preserve her parents legacy."I'm trying to step in and save the club with new ideas."
Prior to Sangiovanni, the club's building was open for about five hours on Wednesday and Friday. Now, there is something going on almost every day.
Sunday brunch runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The $14.95 cost per person comes with a complimentary mimosa. Tuesday is karaoke from 6 to 9 p.m. There is no cost for admission, and dinner is available for $9 per person.
Wednesday is a pasta buffet with live entertainment from 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. There is pasta, fish, meatballs, sausage, salad and more for $13 total, which includes tax and tip. There is also a pasta station for a made-to-order dish.
"It's an extremely plentiful buffet," Sangiovanni said.
Friday is dinner and a dance from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Dinner consists of a salad, small pasta dish, main course, a dessert and coffee. Cost is $18 for members and $22 for non-members. Dance the night away to live music.
"We have live entertainment and it's different every week," she said.
Saturdays are reserved for special entertainment and shows.
"Just a general buzz of excitement, attitude," Sangiovanni said of the response to the changes. "A lot of growth."
Since she took office, more than 85 new members have joined.
"Our Wednesday pasta nights are sometimes up to 250 people," she said, adding that the karaoke is also a hit. "Everybody's having a lot more fun."
To go with the new activities menu, the club has picked up a new executive chef. Executive chef Kristopher Bailey formerly worked at The Edison.
"He was accredited to be one of the top chefs in Southwest Florida," Sangiovanni said, calling his inquiry and acceptance of the job a blessing.
"We needed to take our club to the next level, and we needed someone who was experienced to take it to that next level," she said.
Employed full-time at the club, he prepares all the menus and meals.
The club also offers catering for weddings and parties, and the space is available for rent. The building seats about 500 total, using all the rooms. Sangiovanni noted that it has one of the biggest dance floors in the area.
"We're in the process, little by little, of renovating," she said.
Currently, the club is working on the newly renamed Ba Da Bing Lounge. Sangiovanni expects to host a grand opening in a couple of months.
Future plans include freshening up the dining room, among other things.
An annual membership costs $65 per person; couples must join as a couple.
"You definitely do not have to be Italian to join or come here," she said.
Members receive a $5 savings on the Friday dinner and dance, as well as special events. There are also potluck dinners and appreciation parties.
"We're going to be offering Italian movie night and then the translation will also be on the screen," Sangiovanni said.
Other plans include Italian heritage classes and language lessons.
"It's a new beginning with a second generation," she said. "We just ask people to give us a try because everything is changing."
Asked about her parents, Sangiovanni feels they are beaming. She explained there is a picture of her father smiling as the first president at the club.
"I can just imagine him saying, 'That's my girl,'" she said.
"I'm trying to carry on his dream the best I can," Sangiovanni said.
On Feb. 28, a Mardi Gras Madness Fashion Show will be held at the club at 11:30 a.m. Hosted by the Elegante Ladies, the ladies auxiliary, the show will feature clothing and accessories from Razzle Dazzle, a Cape Coral store.
"Razzle Dazzle is known for the largest cruise and resort wear and bright colors and updates styles," Sangiovanni, owner of the store, said.
The cost is $15 and includes lunch. It is open to the public. Tickets are available at the Cape Coral Italian American Club and Razzle Dazzle.
"It'll be a great show," she said.
The Cape Coral Italian American Club is at 4725 Vincennes Blvd.
For more information about activities or membership, call (239) 542-6515 or visit the club's Web site online at: www.ccitalianamericanclub.com.
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