FORT MYERS BEACH, FLA. – The Yo! Taco stand along Estero Boulevard here is open for business.
The popular tacos are being sold out of a food truck that sits on a swath of what looks like old Metrodome artificial turf. You sit on picnic tables while chowing down. Yo! Taco has the endorsement of local food critic and world traveler Patrick Reusse of Golden Valley. It was the best 2 a.m. food option on the island.
A competitor, the Rude Shrimp Co., sits right behind the taco stand, bordered by an arrangement of storage containers that creates a dining area.
"He probably makes the best tacos on the island, in my opinion," Fort Myers Beach Mayor Dan Allers said.
Fort Myers Beach would love to resume taco wars. About 5,600 live in the town, but 100,000 have been known to visit during spring break. This includes thousands of Twins fans who flee the Upper Midwest winter to snarf sunshine, baseball and views of the Gulf of Mexico.
The full Twins spring training experience, however, might never be the same.
Hurricane Ian made sure of that during a Sept. 28 surge of destruction that will require billions of dollars of repairs and reconstruction. Yo! Taco is operating while surrounded by destroyed buildings and bulldozed properties, including some former restaurants that once tested the limits of my expense account.
If you see a motorhome — and there are many of them — it likely belongs to someone whose home or business was wiped out at that spot.
There are now full views of the Gulf of Mexico from the street, unfortunately — views that weren't available before Sept. 28.
People make communities. And Fort Myers Beach in February and March is a community of senior citizens, spring breakers, baseball fans, locals and many visitors from Minnesota, the East Coast and Canada. Local leaders desperately want to maintain that vibe.
"One of the things that attracts people like me to move down from Minnesota, and other people from Minnesota and the Midwest, when you come to Fort Myers Beach, people don't wear their wealth on their sleeve," Allers said. "You don't know if you are sitting next to someone who owns Walmart or pushes carts for Walmart."
Allers was born in St. Paul, lived in Cottage Grove and attended Spring Lake Park High School. He moved to Fort Myers Beach in 2012 and was on the city council when appointed mayor last November. His home was wiped out by the hurricane, and everything he was able to salvage fit into four 12-by-18 tubs.
He has been working, with others in local government, on an effective recovery path. One that will be expensive.
New buildings must be up to code — an expense that might be too much for some to bear. There are worries that corporations will buy up land and build resorts that will be pricey, exclusive and change the look of the quaint beach town.
Residents balked at the initial plans for a Margaritaville Beach Resort development that was under construction before Ian hit, forcing developers to alter their plans. One of the developers of Margaritaville is TPI Hospitality, which is headed by Minnesotans Tom Torgerson and John Dammermann.
Much of this beach town is unrecognizable now — and will be unrecognizable one, three, five years from now. And Allers, Torgerson and Dammermann are Minnesotans who are stakeholders in the future of Fort Myers Beach and, thusly, part of the spring training experience. Margaritaville is scheduled to open in the fall. By next spring, Allers expects most of the resorts to be reopened for spring break and for baseball excursions.
"If the buildings do look a little different, there's really not a lot we can do about that," Allers said. "But keeping the culture on the inside [is important]. Things may be more expensive. To say it would be a little Miami or another Naples, I think would be a little far-fetched, at least as long as I have a vote.
"But obviously things are going to change and look a little different. They don't necessarily have to feel a little different."