ST. PETERSBURG — Café Alma, one of downtown St. Petersburg's anchor restaurants for the past 12 years, will close on Sunday with a final brunch, reopening in mid July as the briefer "Alma" at 111 Boardwalk Place at John's Pass in Madeira Beach.
The new beachside restaurant has been in the works for owners Scott and Thorn Vogel for some time, but the fate of the original location has just been decided.
"Our building got sold last June," Scott Vogel said. "We've been trying to get our lease renewed forever, but the old owners didn't want anything to do with that. The new owner pretty much said they wanted to double our rent and that we should be paying Beach Drive prices."
Regular customers can attest to the charms of the 114-year-old space, but according to Vogel, the building at 260 First Ave. S needs a great deal of work. The Vogel brothers, who bought Café Alma in 2008, thought relocation was a more prudent move.
"John's Pass seemed like a perfect fit for us. Restaurants on the beaches are mostly small. We're trying to reach the people who are going to Salt Rock and Middle Ground. The tourists are great, we'll take them, but we want the locals, too."
Vogel says the menu at the much larger, 300-seat Alma will echo that of the cafe, but with more of a focus on Florida foods, from Seminole tribe beef to fish right off the John's Pass dock. He says there will be a dinner-only tablecloth side and a "come as you are" flip-flop-friendly side.
The John's Pass location most recently housed Naked Tchopstix, the first Florida outpost of a mid-sized Indiana chain that trafficked in Japanese and Korean fusion that seemed at odds with the casual seafood vibe of the rest of John's Pass.
Cafe Alma will join chains at John's Pass such as the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and independent restaurants like Friendly Fisherman Lounge and Hub's Raw Bar & Tavern.
According to the Vogels, the new owner of 260 First Ave. S has entertained a number of ideas for the building's future, from condos to other restaurants.
A just-completed pale gray exterior paint job is metaphorical: a clean slate for one of St. Petersburg's historic buildings.
Laura Reiley can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.