GULFPORT — The old Aqua Bella seafood restaurant on Shore Boulevard has been reborn Italian.
Chef Paege Chafin moved her Roman Gardens restaurant into the 4,700-square-foot building, which has been closed since July 2007, when the lease was up at her former location, on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. That restaurant, which Chafin dubbed "Baby Roman Gardens," was 1,400 square feet.
"Look," Chafin said as she waved one arm around her new kitchen, "this was the size of my old restaurant."
The old restaurant seated 50; the new one seats 150. There is seating for 80 at the restaurant's two bars, one on the rooftop.
"We're doing very well," said Chafin, who makes a point of greeting diners at every table.
"We were at 25th and Central for three years. All I did was move the restaurant. I brought the customers with me."
Working as a corporate trainer for hoteliers such as Adam's Mark, Chafin said she opened 256 restaurants around the world before opening hers.
"I speak four languages, and I've lived all over the world — Barcelona, Mexico City, London.
"I was always running," she said.
Getting out of the corporate restaurant world was a relief, Chafin said, mostly because it allowed her to have complete quality control. "I'm really picky," she said.
Chafin isn't quite as forthcoming about how she acquired the building that houses her new restaurant as she is about the restaurant itself.
She said she bought the building but would not disclose the purchase price. She said she is in a partnership with the former owner until she gets the building paid off.
"Sort of like a lease-option but beyond that," she said.
According to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office Web site, the restaurant is owned by Raw Capital Futures LLC, 6220 Pasadena Point Blvd. S, Gulfport.
In addition to the main dining room, the restaurant has two bars, the Rotini, indoors, and the Toga, on the rooftop. It also has banquet facilities for 50 to 60 in the Garden room.
Roman Gardens is open seven days a week.
Sunday through Thursday the main dining room is open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. The Toga rooftop bar is open 11 a.m.-midnight and serves a limited menu, including peel-and-eat shrimp and pizza by the slice. Friday and Saturday, the main dining room stays open until 11.
There is no kids menu but kids can always have pasta and sauce for $3.95 or a child's portion of anything on the menu for $6.95.