BELLEAIR BLUFFS — The interior of the popular E&E Steakout Grill is a shambles. It's hot and dusty. Plastic hangs from doorways, and ears are assaulted by construction sounds.
But it's all for a good reason.
Chef Erwin Scheuringer has spent the past month studying blueprints and directing the tearing down and rebuilding of his kitchen, as well as the installation of new plumbing, air conditioning, carpeting and other improvements to the 4,500-square-foot eatery.
"Restaurants are like clothing. You need to constantly update and change with the styles," Scheuringer said.
Scheuringer, who is a native of Austria, and co-owner Eugen Fuhrmann, who is from Bavaria, have overseen other enhancements in the 26 years they have owned the business at 100 Indian Rocks Road.
To accomplish this latest update meant closing the 150-seat restaurant at the end of July.
"Some things you can never do while you are open," Scheuringer said. "When things are slow is the best time. The slowest time of the year for me is right now."
Scheuringer said he hopes to be able to reopen by mid September. The cost for the improvements is $500,000-plus, but customers likely won't notice many of the changes, he said, because the kitchen is the main focus.
When completed, the kitchen will feature "better equipment, have better flow, better working conditions and be a little bit larger," Scheuringer said. The floor will have three different levels for drainage and cleanliness and will be slip resistant. "It will be the Cadillac of kitchen floors," he said.
Scheuringer also is changing the restaurant's menu. Although the core of the menu will remain the same, there will be some new salads, new entrees and small-portion dishes.
"People are watching their dollars and their waistlines," he said. "Light portions have caught on nicely. You can build a meal around an appetizer."
Additions to the menu, he said, are a work in progress.
When it reopens, E&E will serve lunch as usual Monday through Friday and dinner seven days a week, Scheuringer said.
Some of the retailers in Plaza 100 have experienced a decline in walk-in business since E&E closed and have offered perks to encourage shoppers.
Brian Franzese, who with his wife, Cheryl, owns and operates Bella Vino Wine and Cheese Market, has had wine-tasting events and happy hour specials with hors d'oeuvres.
Franzese and other Plaza merchants met after the restaurant closed and came up with "Plaza Bucks" that give $10 off purchases of $50 or more and an opportunity to win gift certificates in a drawing at the end of this month. Each merchant put in a $50 gift certificate, and E&E put in two $200 gift certificates, he said.
Pam Timmons, who with her husband, Brian, has owned Beans About Cooking for a decade, said their business is down between 20 percent and 25 percent, mainly because women often shopped there after lunch at E&E. But they had feared a greater drop.
"I'm pleasantly surprised it hasn't been as bad as we thought," she said. "We're getting our regular customers but not seeing new customers."
Sandee Shaw, who has owned Cassi & Co. women's clothing shop at the plaza for 23 years, said she hasn't noticed much difference in sales.
"It's kind of hard to tell because it's the slow time of the year," she said. However, the restaurant's closing would have noticeably affected her business, she said, if it had occurred during the winter season.