ST. PETERSBURG — Jonny Reno's, a restaurant that casts itself as similar to a Hard Rock Cafe but with surfing memorabilia instead of rock 'n' roll relics, is opening in the Pier.
Yes, the Pier. It's still open and tourists still go there, even though many locals seem to think it's closed for renovations. In fact, once this restaurant opens in the space that was formerly Captain Al's, the Pier will be 100 percent occupied.
"I went there on a Sunday and they have bands. I saw a lot of people there and they were going all the way inside to the food court to the Asian restaurant to get a beverage," said Jon La Budde, a partner in the new restaurant who also owns Reno Beach Surf Shop on Fourth Street N. He had been looking at other locations downtown and decided the Pier was the best place.
"I may open up for a year and a half and they may decide to do something or it may be three years," La Budde said. "We would hope the city would consider us to be a tenant in the new one. I might move the surf shop there or have a satellite shop next to the restaurant."
The Pier is slated for a $50 million makeover in 2013 or early 2014. Susan Robertson, the attraction's advertising and promotions manager, said Jonny Reno's was one of four businesses looking at the space. The restaurant, expected to open Memorial Day weekend, will have 4,500 square feet inside and 1,900 outside, where it can host patrons of the Pier's free outdoor music from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays.
"That's the point we've been trying to make with everyone. We're open and things are happening," Robertson said.
La Budde, who co-owned the Big Catch, a club with live music near Tropicana Field about 10 years ago, said he knows more about the front of the house than the back. For Jonny Reno's he is teaming up with Dennis Bender and his son Kenny, who owned Valentino's restaurant on Fourth Street and sold the business about 90 days ago.
"The theme for Jonny Reno's is nothing that I invented. It's a surf theme bar or beach theme bar," said La Budde, whose middle name is Reno. His place will be somewhat similar to a chain called Lucy's Retired Surfer Bar & Restaurant, which has locations in New Orleans; Baton Rouge, La.; and Austin, Texas. He'll play up all board sports including surfing, skateboarding and paddleboarding. There will be live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, offering an alternative to the hip-hop clubs around town, La Budde said.
The menu will feature gourmet touches on traditional sandwiches. The "North Shore po' boy," for example, will be coconut batter shrimp with pineapple sauce on a po' boy bun
Jonny Reno's will be a focal point for a paddleboard regatta La Budde is organizing for July 2-3 in St. Petersburg. Paddleboards are big surfboards, except the rider stands on the board and paddles with a long oar.
Reach Katherine Snow Smith at (727) 893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.