Bartenders of the Beach: Jane Ribbink – Working Hard in Paradise

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What many people may not know about Jane Ribbink, the smiling face behind the bar at the Fish Monger’s beautifully appointed Hurricane Hole, is that she holds a degree in culinary arts and that she actually created several of the desserts on the popular eatery’s menu, along with some of their specialty drinks. Most importantly for us, she agreed to be part of our Bartenders of the Beach series – where we introduce islanders and visitors to some of the island’s most creative cocktail creators who work long hours wearing many hats – therapists, matchmakers, taxi-dispatchers and occasionally marriage counselors -all while entertaining large groups of often impatient and demanding patrons for hours on end.

“I lived most of my life in Iowa, then I moved to Minnesota to attend school at Le Cordon Bleu College, where I got my culinary arts degree,” Ribbink told us when we stopped in for a refreshing glass of cold Pinot Grigio on Tuesday evening. “I’ve actually been in the hospitality business for nearly 20 years now – both bartending and serving.”

So what got Jane to leave the snowy climes of Minnesota for the Sunshine State? The weather, of course.

“It got too cold for me up there!” she said. “My ex-in-laws used to be snowbirds in this area, so when I decided to move south I came to Fort Myers. Plus, the Twins have spring training here and I love the beach.”

Not that she gets to see much of it. In her ‘spare’ time – Ribbink works Tues, Thurs, Fri and Saturday nights at the Monger – Jane runs her own business, a bakery called Janie’s Sweet Delights, located in front of the Gulfshore Grill.

“Sundays are really my only day off as Monday I’m getting stuff ready for the bakery, so I usually try and relax and read,” she said. “I love doing both the bartending gig and my business because I love interacting with people.”

Jane told us she first moved to our area 4 years ago, and worked at Bahama Breeze when she saw an ad for the Fish Monger.

“That was when Nick and Mary Ruland still owned it, and I came in and fell in love with the place and all the regulars who call the Monger home,” she said. “I was sick of the corporate thing – here I can be myself, it’s more laid back – I love working here. Now we’ve gotten a facelift thanks to Thom and Shelly and the place is beautiful.”

Ribbink says that, unlike many beach bars with their fruity frozen concoctions, most of her customers tend to order draft beers and mixed drinks – including several she created herself such as the Mango Martini (Malibu Rum, Liquor 43, pineapple juice and mango puree) and the Grasshopper (white and green crème de menthe with vanilla ice cream).

“Sometimes I hear about new drinks, or come up with an idea, and try it out,” she said. “I also make some of the desserts on our menu – three of our cakes: ding dong chocolate, carrot cake and Elvis peanut butter.”

Jane says she especially loves how both her business and her bartending job allow her to be creative and meet different people at the same time.

“I have regulars who have been coming here since long before I started,” she said. “They are wonderful. I also like getting to know the seasonal residents and new people when they come to visit – it’s like an extended family.”

One thing Jane hopes to do one day is to share with her actual family her love of all things southwest Florida.

“I have 12 nieces and nephews altogether – one of my sisters has eight kids,” she said, laughing. “They all live in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It would be awesome to see them all come here.”

For now, though, Jane says she will continue to work at the two jobs she loves, spend time with her boyfriend and relax and read when she can.

And maybe find time to go to the beach.

Keri Hendry Weeg