At the beginning of 2010, BellaBrava cemented Beach Drive NE as the up-and-coming restaurant row of downtown St. Petersburg. Owners inked a deal to leave Central Avenue and move into the 200 block of Beach. A few months later, Cassis American Bistro opened its doors across the street. And the Birchwood Inn, formerly Grayl's Hotel, opens its glamorous Birch and Vine restaurant and Canopy, the rooftop lounge, a few blocks north on Friday
Not to be outdone, BellaBrava has just announced an expansion. When it moved to Beach Drive, it took over the space formerly occupied by Cherie's Eclectica, Prudential Gower Realty, Ambria's Gallery of Wearable Art plus an apartment upstairs, 4,000 square feet total, making room for seating for 230 indoors and out.
That's not enough, says co-owner Mike Harding.
"We've signed a lease for the hair salon next door," he said on Wednesday. "The architects are already architecting, and before high season we'll be open."
The additional 800 square feet gained by taking over Salon LaRu will add 50 indoor and outdoor seats. The hair salon is moving around the corner toward the Shops at St. Pete, formerly BayWalk.
"The real decision was that we are able to fill the place on a Friday and Saturday night," explains Harding. "But the kitchen hasn't reached its capacity."
His hope is that on busy nights, seating times will be quicker. With 90 employees, the addition will allow for hiring 14 to 16 new people, with four or five in the kitchen and the rest servers and support staff.