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Kitchen restaurant closes; two others go dark to revamp

Chef-owner Margaret Guidicessi had to close the Kitchen, a popular restaurant at 409 Central Ave. “We can’t afford to stay open,” she said.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Chef-owner Margaret Guidicessi had to close the Kitchen, a popular restaurant at 409 Central Ave. “We can’t afford to stay open,” she said.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Kitchen's closed.

It's not the words chef-owner Margaret Guidicessi ever thought she'd say when she opened her popular restaurant at 409 Central Ave. last year, but a slow summer has forced the downtown hot spot to shut its doors.

"We can't afford to stay open," she said bluntly.

She's not alone. Another downtown St. Petersburg startup, DeSanto Latin American Bistro, closed this month, but a new restaurant concept is reportedly in the works.

Never mind the quality food at the Kitchen, the small but loyal regulars or the prime location. Guidicessi said it comes down to simple economics: Her large-scale grab-and-go concept never took off. Sandwiches and coffee just weren't paying the bills.

"At some point, you have to cut your losses," she said. "It just wasn't working. It was costing us too much to make food every day."

Guidicessi is negotiating with vendors from the popular Saturday Morning Market to enter into an arrangement in which vendors will pay an hourly rate to rent the kitchen to prepare and store foods. It wasn't her original vision, but she said that at least it supports the spirit of bringing good food to lots of people.

"Under this umbrella, maybe we can give people something they wanted," she said. "But I thought we were already doing that."

At DeSanto, this month's closing is the second time the bistro at 128 Third St. S has closed for a retooling.

In March, management brought in renowned chef Jeannie Pierola, formerly of Bern's Steak House in Tampa, to revamp DeSanto's culinary offerings. Pierola has since departed from the restaurant but left her upscale hybrid Latin American menu intact.

"Unfortunately, economic times and time of year have dictated that we change stripes," said DeSanto owner Douglas Ellman.

Ellman was tight-lipped on what those changes could be, but said managers are kicking around a few ideas and hope to reopen in early October. Meanwhile, DeSanto's kitchen will serve food to outdoor seating areas as well as Push Ultra Lounge, the building's swanky upstairs nightclub.

In another restaurant shakeup, the Table and Mesa Lounge, at 535 Central Ave., is temporarily closing its doors and changing owners. General manager Joe Moledo said he is bringing chef Pedro Flores, who helped launch the Table's original Sarasota locale, back to St. Petersburg.

Moledo promises that the menu and staff at the St. Petersburg restaurant won't change. What will change, he said, is the price.

"The menu I had was too expensive," he said. "We're going to make the menu more affordable."

Moledo hopes to have the remodeled restaurant open in early October.

Just down the block, Guidicessi is selling off her restaurant's patio furniture just to make ends meet.

Although she's headed for new opportunities — she'll be the new chef at the natural food stores Rollin' Oats Market and Cafe in St. Petersburg and Tampa — the Kitchen was her dream shop.

"It's hard not to feel like a failure," she said standing in her chef's coat and surveying an empty Central Avenue. "I just don't do well in this slow environment."

Kitchen restaurant closes; two others go dark to revamp 09/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:04pm]
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