Saturday, May 19, 2018
Business

Epicurean Hotel opens as legacy to Bern's Steak House founder

TAMPA — To celebrate the opening of the food- and wine-inspired Epicurean Hotel, officials swapped the traditional ribbon cutting for a "steak-cutting ceremony'' using an aged strip steak cooked by the executive chef in the new culinary classroom.

It was a fitting tribute to the late Bern Laxer, founder of the famed Bern's Steak House across the street whose legacy made the hotel possible.

The Epicurean Hotel opens today at 1207 S Howard Ave., a partnership between the steak house and Tampa-based Mainsail Lodging and Development Group. Nearly a decade in the making, the 137-room hotel has a restaurant, rooftop bar, wine store, pastry shop, culinary classroom, banquet room, pool and spa.

Hotel employees, investors and public officials gathered Tuesday to tour the four-story Epicurean and attend a staff pep rally with Plant High School marching band members banging pots and pans to rousing applause.

"All I can say is 'Wow,' '' said Bern's Steak House owner David Laxer, whose father started the restaurant in 1956. "To see this come to fruition is amazing.''

The hotel caters to foodies seeking a unique gastronomic experience in the heart of Tampa's historic Hyde Park.

"Our tagline for this hotel is to awaken appetites unknown,'' said general manager Tom Haines.

Mainsail president Joe Collier described what he hopes will become a typical guest's stay: Eat dinner at Bern's, grab a nightcap at the hotel's rooftop bar, go biking along nearby Bayshore Boulevard, eat breakfast in the restaurant, get a massage in the spa, take a cooking class, then rest at the pool.

The $35 million project is the first built-from-scratch hotel in the United States to join Marriott International's Autograph Collection. But you won't see a Marriott logo anywhere in the hotel. Most items were custom designed for the Epicurean, from the wine-cork wreath at the front desk to decorative bed pillows showing a spoon, fork and knife. It's quaintly urban, with the din of cars passing on the bordering Lee Roy Selmon Expressway audible from the pool.

Central to the hotel is the Epicurean Theatre, a 40-seat culinary classroom with amphitheater-style seating and a kitchen for food presentations, cooking classes and iron chef competitions. Classes starting in February will cover everything from the History of the Cocktail to Sustainable Winemaking and Seafood.

Chad Johnson, a 2012 James Beard Best Chef South Region semifinalist, heads up Elevage, an 80-seat restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pastry chef Kim Yelvington was tapped to run Chocolate Pi, a patisserie opening next month.

Room prices range from $200 to $300 a night and New Year's Eve is already sold out.

Laxer first floated the idea of a boutique hotel in 2003 as a complement to Bern's Steak House and its adjacent sister restaurant, SideBern's. The project met resistance from neighboring residents concerned about adding traffic to busy Howard Avenue but eventually was approved.

The hotel was slated to open in 2008 but was shelved when the real estate market crashed and Laxer was unable to secure financing. Plans were revived and tweaked as the economy improved, and Mainsail Lodging joined as a partner.

Officials said Tuesday that the final result was better than earlier concepts, which included a hotel with fewer rooms but also private townhouses. The hotel is better integrated with the neighborhood and the exterior is more attractive, said Bob McDonaugh, the city of Tampa's administrator of economic opportunity.

Vicki Pollyea, president of the Bayshore Gardens Neighborhood Association, said she was disappointed the project didn't come back for another city review when it was resurrected and revised. The current 137 rooms are considerably more than the 86 once planned and the rooftop bar, banquet room and other amenities will generate even more traffic and parking snarls.

"I think it's an asset and something the community really wants, but I really wish that the neighborhoods had had the opportunity to be more involved,'' said Pollyea, noting that her association was not invited to Tuesday's grand opening event.

Still, she was hopeful officials would address concerns once the hotel was up and running and fully operational.

As an extension of the Epicurean, Laxer said he planned to spruce up the blah exterior of Bern's Steak House with landscaping and other improvements this summer. He also might upgrade — but not replace — the iconic Bern's Steak House sign.

He said his father, who died in 2002, would have liked a hotel devoted to the pursuit of culinary excellence.

"I don't know if he would have built the hotel because he was so focused on the steakhouse, but he loved improving his knowledge and discovering new things,'' Laxer said.

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow her on Twitter @susan_thurston.

 
Comments
Camping without the hassle: New service rents you all the gear you need, plus the car

Camping without the hassle: New service rents you all the gear you need, plus the car

One day in April, I returned from a camping trip - a quick 24 out of the city - and ran a load of laundry. Whatís more telling is what I didnít do.I didnít hose down a muddy tent, I didnít soak a shoddily cleaned pot, and I categorically did not empt...
Published: 05/19/18
Romano: Save your money, sports betting wonít be in Florida anytime soon

Romano: Save your money, sports betting wonít be in Florida anytime soon

It is the middle of the day and the beginning of the off-season at Tampa Bay Downs. That means the action is limited to simulcast wagering, and that means the televisions outnumber the bettors.The parimutuel industry is long past its heyday in Americ...
Published: 05/19/18
Son of Crabby Billís founder leaves complex legacy of troubled projects and good deeds

Son of Crabby Billís founder leaves complex legacy of troubled projects and good deeds

SOUTH PASADENA ó Like his father, who founded the Crabby Billís seafood restaurant chain, John Loder Sr. had a larger-than-life personality. That was one reason he dived into the real estate business, becoming a well-known, if at times controversial ...
Published: 05/18/18
Updated: 05/19/18
Global Tampa Bay initiative seeks to grow direct foreign investment through expanded regional teamwork

Global Tampa Bay initiative seeks to grow direct foreign investment through expanded regional teamwork

TAMPA ó A decade ago, the Great Recession put Hillsborough and Pinellas countiesí efforts to grow their foreign exports on hold.But since then those efforts have returned, gained support and momentum, expanded the range of their ambition and are now ...
Published: 05/18/18
Florida unemployment holds at 3.9 percent, state adds 9,600 jobs

Florida unemployment holds at 3.9 percent, state adds 9,600 jobs

Floridaís economy appears to have plateaued with its unemployment rate holding at 3.9 percent for the seventh straight month, according to the April report released Friday.But some economists say it may be a good thing if the rate doesnít fall much m...
Published: 05/18/18
Lawsuit over Riverwalk Place tower in downtown Tampa settled

Lawsuit over Riverwalk Place tower in downtown Tampa settled

TAMPA ó A lawsuit over the mix of residences and offices in the planned $350 million Riverwalk Place tower has been dropped.Last August, Riverwalk Tower Investment-Intown LLC, which had been expected to be one of the developers in the project, filed ...
Published: 05/18/18
Orlandoís new attractions power jump in theme park attendance

Orlandoís new attractions power jump in theme park attendance

By MIKE SCHNEIDERORLANDO ó The arms race to build new theme park attractions in Orlando is paying dividends. A new report released this week shows theme park attendance at the largest parks in North America last year was up 2.3 percent, powered by ne...
Published: 05/18/18
How Mosaicís relocation could help Tampa International Airport land a flight to Brazil

How Mosaicís relocation could help Tampa International Airport land a flight to Brazil

Tampa International covets a nonstop flight to S„o Paulo, Brazil. Mosaic Co, which is moving its headquarters to Hillsborough County, has huge holdings in the country, including several mines. Could Mosaicís relocation help TIA realize its dream? It ...
Published: 05/18/18
Remember that upscale Guy Harvey RV resort near Tarpon Springs. Forget the Guy Harvey part

Remember that upscale Guy Harvey RV resort near Tarpon Springs. Forget the Guy Harvey part

HOLIDAY ó A year ago this month, Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts announced plans for its first-ever RV park, near Tarpon Springs where the Anclote River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.The $35 million resort, named after the popular Jamaican marine artist...
Published: 05/18/18
American Dream Miami to become largest mall in U.S. after final approval

American Dream Miami to become largest mall in U.S. after final approval

MIAMI ó A gigantic $4 billion retail and entertainment complex won government approval Thursday after years of debate, greenlighting what promises to be the largest mall in North America, just a few miles from the environmentally sensitive Everglades...
Published: 05/18/18