Clearwater restaurant turnover continues

CLEARWATER — One restaurant opens downtown, and another one closes. That's been the pattern in recent months, and it continues to be the case.

This Saturday, a new restaurant called the Smokin' Out BBQ Grill & Bar will hold a grand opening celebration at its location at S Fort Harrison Avenue and Court Street.

Meanwhile, a recent newcomer called the Rio Grande Mexican Grille appears to have shut its doors at 528 Cleveland St.

In downtown Clearwater, restaurants have been coming and going at a rapid pace lately. Aside from these two, another four places opened and six closed in the last several months.

"It's tough. We get a new restaurant and we lose two," said Bill Sturtevant, chairman of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. "But we're making progress," with the city and private groups holding events downtown and working to attract businesses.

A certain amount of churn is to be expected, especially in an industry as volatile as restaurants and especially in this tough economy. But the city's economic development officials have been focusing on recruiting sit-down restaurants to the downtown district.

The latest addition, Smokin' Out BBQ Grill & Bar, recently started serving pulled pork sandwiches at 401 S Fort Harrison after its owners, Ajay and Jill Gutterman, ran a smaller barbecue joint for four years on U.S. 19 in Holiday.

"Lunches are packed. Being downtown, we're getting a lot of business from offices in the area," Ajay Gutterman said. "With dinners, we need a little more help there."

The churn along Cleveland Street continues:

Recently opened: Cafe Supreme, 801 Cleveland; Caliyogurt, 519 Cleveland; Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin-Robbins, 534 Cleveland; and Greektown Grille, 1230 Cleveland.

Recently closed: Annie Rose Deli, Jack's Downtown Deli, Jamba Juice, La Rose Subs & Salads, Rabbit Hole Cafe, Tangerine Mediterranean.

The closing of Jamba Juice was the most high-profile departure. The smoothie chain shuttered its downtown location but kept the one in Clearwater Mall open.

The largest of these closed restaurants was Rio Grande Mexican Grille, which had just opened in October. The owners and landlord had torn out a drop ceiling and fixed up an old pressed-tin ceiling, creating a spacious 5,000-square-foot restaurant in the 500 block of Cleveland.

Owner Brian Beck couldn't be reached for comment this week. But the restaurant's signs have been taken down, its doors are locked, and it's dark and deserted inside.

A sign in one of its windows reads Coming soon.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater restaurant turnover continues 01/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 10:30pm]

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