BELLEAIR BLUFFS — As he has done almost every year since he got married, on Thanksgiving Day Michael Walguarnery loaded up the turkey and all the fixings in his car and drove over to see his in-laws in St. Augustine.
"It goes without saying — if I'm coming, I'm expected to have the food,'' said Walguarnery, 31.
In years past, Walguarnery, who opened the Surf & Turf Market here in 2007, stayed a few days to relax with his wife and children. However, this time he hurried back to Pinellas County right after the meal.
The reason for the quick turnaround: He's turning his Surf & Turf Market into something new.
On Saturday, the gourmet market at 2900 W Bay Drive near the Belleair Bridge will open with a new name, Wild Fields Marketplace. It will also have a new cafe, which created a need for 20 additional employees.
The changes result from Walguarnery seeking investors so he could expand his business. Two Pinellas County residents, Craig Whited and his son Benjamin, who had experience running markets in California, bought into Surf & Turf (which is not affiliated with Harr's Surf & Turf Market in Palm Harbor) and formed a new corporation, Wild Fields Marketplace. They will use the Belleair Bluffs market as a prototype for what they hope will be a chain of similar gourmet markets and cafes.
Walguarnery will be general manager of the new corporation, in charge of daily operations.
For more than five years, Surf & Turf has been known for its selection of fresh meats, poultry and cheeses as well as its ready-to-go meals. Customers like Jean Kaufman of Belleair Bluffs are hoping that won't change.
"It's almost Christmas, and I planned on beef tenderloin from here,'' she said.
Those products will still be available at Wild Fields Marketplace, according to Walguarnery, "but we wanted to be able to offer more.''
"There seemed to be a need for the concept of a fresh market and cafe, and we consider (the Belleair Bluffs location) our prototype," Walguarnery said. "We hope to open other locations throughout central Florida starting next year.''
The renovations, which cost about $500,000, include the cafe, where people will order at a counter, as well as a redesigned retail section.
"We realized that out of the 9,000 total square feet we had here, we were only using 3,500 square feet for retail. So, with the renovations, including the cafe, we are utilizing all our space better,'' he said.
Walguarnery has also hired a new executive chef, Scott Andres, a graduate of the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach. Andres spent about 10 years working for Publix, where he was responsible for creating hundreds of recipes for that corporation's Greenwise stores.
"Scott was the last piece of the puzzle to do this,'' Walguarnery said.
Andres and nine cook trainees have spent the past several weeks developing the cafe menu, which will have entrees ranging from about $7.99 to $10. Items will include a roast turkey, apple and brie on cracked wheat sandwich, five-cheese flatbread garnished with chopped salad, and a caprese (fresh mozzarella, tomato, pesto balsamic dressing in a croissant).
There will also be a soup and salad bar and an olive bar with about 12 varieties of olives.
Andres, 36, pointed out that in Belleair Bluffs, Wild Fields Marketplace does not have a serious competitor. "I guess we'll have competition with Publix or the Panera next door, but there's nothing like us really near here,'' he said.
"What we're trying to provide is a mainstream location where you are able to get natural and organic products and still have mainstream products that are in high demand,'' said Andres. "And along with that, we plan to do a lot of expanding on the new recipes, even beyond the opening.''
For the past few weeks, every time customer Shannan Fitzgerald visited the business, she stepped gingerly through the store because of construction.
"As long as I can get the meats, their spices, all the things that make meals taste good, then whatever they do is okay,'' said Fitzgerald, 58, of Largo. "Belleair Bluffs can use another cafe. We don't have many, and as long as it isn't too expensive, they will continue doing great here.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or [email protected]