By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
NORTH REDINGTON BEACH — Another "end of an era" moment: The Wine Cellar is closing.
It began in 1975 as a teeny spot in Gulfport. Success brought change, and the Wine Cellar moved to bigger digs in North Redington Beach that next year. Despite the grander 200-seat location, Karl Klumpp, Ted Sonnenschein and Peter Schuckert set about creating the same warmth and intimacy in this moodily lit setting. It saw prom nights and ring boxes, anniversary soirees and little black dresses for decades, and on April 30 it will go dark forever.
Owners Liesel and Ted Sonnenschein are in negotiations with an undisclosed developer for the 2-acre site at 17307 Gulf Blvd., with a sales price of $3.3 million.
A confidentiality agreement precludes Liesel from revealing the details of the retail development that will go into the space, but it will not be Sweetbay. Previous talks with Sweetbay Supermarket fell through when the grocery announced a moratorium on new construction. Before that, the property's land use was changed to accommodate a potential buyer who wanted to build an 85-unit hotel with restaurant and bar. That deal, too, did not materialize.
Liesel, who turns 76 on April 14, and husband Ted, 79, aim to relax as of May 1. When asked if a next restaurant project was in the works, Liesel said, "Absolutely not. We decided that we needed to watch out for ourselves. We'll rest up from everything, and then we'll see."
The Wine Cellar's longevity in an industry with an exceedingly high failure rate can be explained in one word: constancy.
"We have customers telling us how they have loved it over the years precisely for that reason," Liesel said. "We've stayed consistent."
Son Kai, who also has been involved in the business but now works at C1 Bank in St. Petersburg, says the Wine Cellar has about 45 employees, all of whom were notified about the closure on April 1.
"We have employees who have been with us for 30 years," said Kai. "We've offered letters of reference. And we have strong ties with (restaurateurs) Dan Casey and Steve Westphal, who both got their start here. And we also have good relations with Frank Chivas (Salt Rock, Island Way, etc.). Our employees are going to be fine."
Although a farewell party has not yet been planned, Kai says Bay Area Auctions will put the restaurant's contents up for bid May 15. The restaurant, about 24,000 square feet, is full of antiques: stained glass, lamps and a lot of architectural salvage bought from Ybor City.
"One of the original partners was an antiques dealer," Kai said. But even after the lamps and tablecloths go, the Sonnenscheins' legacy will be remembered.
"It has stayed true to its values," said Kai, "to Old World charm and to continental cuisine."
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.