CLEARWATER — It takes some guts to open a restaurant in a spot where others have failed. That's what the Brown Boxer Pub and Grill did last year, opening in a Clearwater Beach spot where an Outback Steakhouse had closed.
And that's what it's doing on Nov. 11 in downtown Madeira Beach, in a prominent spot that has been vacant for some time.
The new place is at 15000 Madeira Way, the site of the former Leatherbacks Steakhouse. After Leatherbacks closed, a replacement called Rad Finz Coastal Cuisine was supposed to open last year but never did.
Brown Boxer owner Jay Thomas noticed the empty site because he kept driving past it on his way to visit John's Pass. "I like the traffic that goes through there, coming off the Tom Stuart Causeway," he said.
He decided to clone what has been successful at his Clearwater pub: a menu of wings and other entrees, dozens of TVs showing sports, live music nightly, and a mix of indoor and outdoor seating. The porch will be dog-friendly, which is appropriate since the restaurant is named after Thomas' one-eyed dog.
"We're a casual pub and grill. A lot of people say we're a sports bar, but we're not," said Thomas, a Philadelphia native who got his start managing Hooters franchises up North. "We try to hit every segment: older folks for dinner, a happy hour for locals, music after 10 for a younger crowd. People who come here for dinner have no idea what happens here at night when we're rocking and we turn into a club."
Thomas and his partners, Jeff Brown and Wasim Nabulsi, opened the first Brown Boxer in July 2010 at the Pelican Walk shopping center on Clearwater Beach.
An Outback had opened there in 2003, and officials had hoped it would breathe new life into the shopping strip on Mandalay Avenue. But it eventually closed.
Thomas and his crew took over, knocked down the Outback's exterior walls and installed garage doors that can be raised.
"It makes the inside seating seem like outdoor seating," said Clearwater City Council member John Doran, who has frequented the place. "I think he has successfully followed that model of going in after somebody else has given up. They've made going there a social event. That corner is becoming more active, and it's gratifying to see."
Madeira Beach officials can only hope that the new Boxer livens up the Madeira Way corridor.
That site has a long history as a dining spot: Before it was Leatherbacks, for 40 years it was a local institution called the Apple Family Restaurant. The Apple, a favorite breakfast and lunch stop for tourists and businesspeople, was owned by Pat and George Schontz.
"The new restaurant is going to be a great thing for Madeira Way, which has been asleep since Leatherbacks closed," said Pat Schontz, a former Madeira Beach mayor. "It should really bring some action to that end of town."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151.