Published: Feb 02, 2011 12:37 AM EST
Updated: Feb 01, 2011 7:59 PM EST

A landmark restaurant in southwest Florida could close, or change its character, after the Bonita Bay Group decided not to renew the lease for the place.   Flora and Ella's has been operating in LaBelle since 1933, and it's survived under the Bonita Bay group the past 5 years.    Now, that is changing.

"Sadness.   I feel it is just the end of a great era.  I will shed a lot of tears," said Debbie Klemmer, manager of the restaurant, founded by her grandmother, Ella Burchard, and Ella's sister Flora, 78 years ago.   "If this happens, it is going to be very hard to just walk away.   But times change and things change.    I just hope t he new people who rent the space, whoever they are, will consider keeping my staff if possible.  Some of them have been here for many years, and there are not any other jobs in this town."

Bonita Bay Group issued a statement, confirming the non-renewal of the lease that expires March 31.   The group says it has had a great relationship with the staff at the restaurant and with customers.  However, it's time for Bonita Bay to get out of the restaurant business, according to the statement.

The owner of the building says he is trying to rent to another restaurant.  But there is no guarantee that the new people would keep the Flora and Ella's name, the menu, or the workers.

The Burchard sisters opened as a sandwich shop in the depths of the depression.   Later they perfected their recipes for southern favorites:  fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, and the like.

The place also became known for its luscious pies.   It served as a meeting place for civic and agricultural groups in Hendry County as well. 

Leaving, if it comes to that, will be especially hard on Deb Klemmer, who's worked at the restaurant since she was a child.    "I just cannot imagine, that is so hard to think about I can't even put it into words.    But we all have to adjust to changes in life.   We may have to do that soon," said Klemmer.