Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

New, but smaller and quieter, restaurant to replace Ozona's J.C. Craver's

OZONA — The original owners are back, but J.C. Craver's, with its raucous live entertainment, is not.

On Tuesday, Kelly and Vince LaMattina will open a new business, Ozona Tavern, on Orange Street where J.C. Craver's previously operated.

Unlike J.C. Craver's, which had 150 seats, the new eatery will have only 50 seats. Featured offerings will include craft beer and NFL Ticket during the football season.

What won't it offer? Musical groups like the Black Honkeys, the funk and blues band that was at the center of a dispute between neighbors and J.C. Craver's for more than a year.

The LaMattinas opened J.C. Craver's as a restaurant and live music venue in 2009 on the south end of Orange Street, away from the other restaurants in Ozona, and neighbors continuously complained about the noise.

However, the business found success, holding special events, including monthly visits from the Black Honkeys. Hundreds of fans would pour into Ozona, a small community at the west end of Tampa Road.

In January, the LaMattinas decided to concentrate on opening a new venture in Trinity in Pasco County, Fiddler's Green Irish Pub. They sold J.C. Craver's to Lisa and Nigel Foster.

However, neighbors' complaints persisted, and on March 29, while the Black Honkeys performed, the Fosters were issued a noise citation by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

On June 6, the Fosters closed the restaurant and ownership of the business reverted to the LaMattinas.

Although they were busy preparing for the grand opening of Fiddler's Green, the couple decided to reopen J.C. Craver's, but that plan was short-lived. Early this month they received a warning from Pinellas County Code Enforcement that they would not be given zoning clearance for a 150-seat restaurant. The original site plan for the small strip center, more than 10 years old, called for a 50-seat restaurant and a storefront, according to Pinellas County spokeswoman Mary Burrell.

At first, the couple was frustrated.

"Clearly this came about because of pressure from neighbors,'' said Vince LaMattina, 40.

However, LaMattina learned that a former owner of the property had knocked down the wall between the restaurant and storefront to enlarge the restaurant space. That expansion was not properly permitted, so the county would not allow the situation to continue.

Ken Donald lives near the restaurant and had complained about the noise and traffic at J.C. Craver's.

"My opinions are based on what I had to live through,'' he said. "I love music. I love restaurants. Now, if they have found a way to coexist, that will be wonderful, but I am cautious.''

Since J.C. Craver's closed, Donald said, he has enjoyed being outside of his home more. "For all of June and July, whenever I walk out my door, I've heard frogs chirping. It's been great,'' he said.

After Tuesday's opening of the new Ozona Tavern, the LaMattinas are planning an Aug. 1 grand opening party for Fiddler's Green in Trinity Commons Shopping Center, 7813 Mitchell Blvd. in Trinity. That business will seat up to 150.

"We won't have to worry about neighbors,'' LaMattina said.

When asked who would be performing at the grand opening of Fiddler's Green, LaMattina chuckled.

"The Black Honkeys. People will still be able to see the band up there,'' he said.

Reach Piper Castillo at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.

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