COLUMN: Bowls of sweets and superfoods | Business


February’s a big month for Sharon Hooijkaas and Jordy Beumer of Punta Gorda’s Zoet Sweet Boutique and Zoet Snack Bar, perennial award winners for best ice cream and dessert.

Not only is Zoet (pronounced “zooht”; Dutch for “sweet”) the town’s sweetest spot for Valentine’s goodies. Its business anniversary — this one the sixth — falls in February. So do the anniversaries of the owners’ first date 10 years ago and wedding seven years ago.

But that six-year ownership benchmark tastes bittersweet.

Many customers don’t realize that, though Zoet has become a fixture of Punta Gorda life, Netherlanders Beumer and Hooijkaas are here by sufferance of the US State Department.

Some loyal customers remember a nailbiter from five years ago.

The owners had to close shop and travel to the US Embassy in the Netherlands to renew their E-2 visa — at that time issued to investors for from one to five years.

Zoet had to demonstrate both profitability and a unique contribution to the local economy.

Anne Lomski of Punta Gorda, who’s used Zoet for caterings, was astounded to think the business could be in jeopardy.

She said, “Their determination and dedication, getting and keeping this going, are really impressive. A lot of people think you go into business and just go home at 5 o’clock. Sharon and Jordy were there from the beginning seven days a week, 7 am to 8 pm They had zero time off, ever.”

Todd Craig and partner Ronnie Winters, who used to run Punta Gorda’s Village Oyster Bar and thus know a thing or two about the business, exclaimed, “They’re fantastic entrepreneurs — the kind we need to come into this country, roll up their sleeves and get to work.”

At the time of their renewal, Sharon had said, “We still believe in the American dream. We hope they’ll just say, ‘Here you go. You’re good for five more years.”’”

In the end, they got those five years.

Trouble is, things are different now.

Today, the longest possible visa renewal period is two to three years at a time — not nearly long enough to grow the business the way Beumer says they want to.

Before even renewing, there’s that interview at the embassy. And today’s sluggish economic environment means outrageous wait times for an appointment — sometimes a year and a half, even more.

Ultimately, an E-2 visa assumes they will return to the Netherlands.

But, said Beumer, “We’ve built up way too much to just leave. I don’t see myself going back to Europe anytime soon.”

So, the couple’s best option is aiming for a green card — which allows them to live and work permanently in the United States — by demonstrating through endorsements their unique knowledge, skills, abilities and experience.

Hooijkaas said, “People will drive here for 12 hours and make a weekend of it because we’re the only traditional Dutch café in the area. And we supply six other local businesses — including The Celtic Ray for Guinness ice cream.”

“We would love to be US citizens one day, because we love being here,” added Beumer.

Worried diners, wholesale customers and government representatives are writing letters of support for the Zoet couple, hoping to keep them thriving on US soil.

Zoet ($-$$), 941-769-1746, 27670 Bermont Road (Winn-Dixie plaza), is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 8 pm


Jamie Richardson used to serve a very different bowlful of food five years ago, at her family’s Punta Gorda all-barbecue restaurant: 2 Crackers and a Yankee.

The Cracker Bowl — “barbecue in a bowl” — gave you mashed potatoes, pulled pork, baked beans, slaw and sauce, all in one mouthful.

That doesn’t mean Richardson ate it all the time.

“It’s been six months since I’ve actually decided to go eat barbecue,” she said.

“Working with the Red Sox like Lee does, the nutritional end of things has always been something we’ve enjoyed. But when you want a quick, healthy lunch, what do you do? We decided to do it ourselves.”

Gorda Bowls, managed by Alexandra Gauss from the Richardsons’ Leroy’s Southern Kitchen & Bar, now serves savory poke build-your-own bowls that can be anything from a traditional poke with salmon or tuna to a steak salad. Whatever you want.

Here, you walk the serving line to choose your own base from sushi rice and coconut-infused black rice to mixed greens for the carb conscious. Then pick from nine different proteins, 20 toppings, crunchy/spicy garnishes and dressings. Prices vary, not according to number of toppings, but by number of different proteins, from one (small) to three (large).

Antioxidant-loaded chilled açai (sweet palm berries) and pitaya (earthy dragonfruit) bowls come in predetermined choices like Life’s A Beach, PB&J and Dragonberry, or the everything-goes, large-size Peacock for those who can’t decide.

You can also walk the counter and build your own, using açai or pitaya base, fruit and goodie add-ins, and drizzles of anything from honey to Nutella or caramel.

Then wash it all down with healthy fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies.

Gorda Bowls ($$, O), 941-347-8926, 117 Herald Court, Punta Gorda, is open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 7 pm, Friday and Saturday to 4 pm

Send restaurant and bar news and recommendations to columnist Sue Wade at

Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage. Outside seating available = O.



Zoet proprietors Sharon Hooijkaas and Jordy Beumer are working toward the green card that will allow their business to continue flourishing in Punta Gorda.



TV reporter Rachel Anderson and cameraman Cody help Sharon Hooijkaas decorate a Valentine’s cake and make Stroopwafeln for an ABC7 segment.



Gorda Bowls’ fruit bowls have a chilled açai or pitaya base and your choice of toppings.



Gorda Bowls has opened its doors in downtown Punta Gorda.



I went with a build-your-own poke bowl and a ‘rehab’ juice after a long swim in the cold, and boy did it hit the spot,” Collin Smith said of his visit to Gorda Bowls.


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