Published: Aug 03, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Updated: Aug 03, 2011 4:01 AM EDT

CAPE CORAL, Fla. - A new Cape Coral restaurant is helping to take a big bite out of unemployment in Southwest Florida, by putting more than 100 people back to work.

A new Sonny's Bar-B-Q opened in late July on Pine Island Road, in the former Uno's location.  Managers say they've been busy since day one.

When Sonny's announced it was taking over the empty restaurant space in April, it meant a new beginning for dozens of previously unemployed people...

Sunnie Ferrard had been looking for work for several months.  Now she's happy to be commuting 45 minutes from Lehigh Acres, waiting tables, instead of waiting to hear back on another job application...

"Without this job, I wouldn't be able to be $300 away from buying my car in the next week," Ferrard said.

"We employ 117 people as of now," said general manager Alan Horowitz.  "90 percent were unemployed."

Horowitz says that was part of his strategy when he started hiring: help the unemployed get work.

"We feel we gave back to the community, and we're getting it back," Horowitz said.

The staff is a cross-section of southwest Florida, including teens finally landing their first job after years of trying.

"I've put in applications, probably 200 in the past year.  And this is the only one I've been able to get a job for," said Jake Shafer, who was hired as a dishwasher after looking for work for three years, since he was 16.  "I'm grateful every day I can come to work. Every single day."

There's a shared history that's led to a special bond between these new co-workers.

"Everyone has something to relate to, especially when one of us is having an issue about our mortgage, our rent being late, car payments being under," Ferrard said.

And smiles all around from a group happy to be back to work.

"I'm really eager to be here, really enjoy my job," Ferrard said.

Managers at Sonny's say they're also grateful to the city of Cape Coral for recognizing the need to get these new jobs going, and helping to push through permits for remodeling and doing business so they could open in just four months time.