ST. PETERSBURG — This city has hit the culinary big time, one filled with the heady smells of lobster pot pie and caviar parfait.
For the first time, the Tampa Bay area will be home to a bona fide celebrity-chef-owned restaurant, and judging from the well-attended press conference Thursday at the downtown Sundial shopping and dining complex, interest will be keen. Sundial owner and St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards made the announcement.
In cities like San Francisco or Las Vegas, Michael Mina's name is money in the bank. The Egyptian native and Culinary Institute of America graduate has parlayed his cooking chops into an empire of more than 20 restaurants and other food businesses, including a wine club. Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans might be interested in an East Coast expansion of Mina's San Francisco 49ers pregame members-only club to be unveiled this year at the Niners' new stadium.
As with many of the nation's top chefs, Mina is a whirlwind of new ideas. But one idea that he and longtime friend Don Pintabona have kicked around for several years is an upscale market. So Mina's first market, Locale, will open at Sundial in the fall. It will be seasonally driven and organized around individual kiosks from charcuterie to chocolate, with the flexibility for customers to take prepared food to go, to buy raw ingredients to cook at home or to sit down and have a multicourse meal.
The accompanying restaurant, Farmtable Kitchen, will open at the same time after much of the retail space in Sundial, formerly BayWalk, is up and running. It will hit all the current culinary buzzwords: farm-to-table, seasonal and sustainable, chef-driven. But the biggest thing Locale and Farmtable will give St. Petersburg and the region is credibility. One nationally known culinary superstar begets another.
Rumors have swirled about other potential tenants at Sundial — Iron Chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Geoffrey Zakarian, author and megastar Emeril Lagasse and Food Network notable Donatella Arpaia have all been mentioned. Edwards, Mina and Pintabona, who graduated from the University of South Florida and is the former chef at New York's Tribeca Grill, are mum about the other restaurants that will join Locale in Sundial, although Ruth's Chris Steak House and a second location of Naples' Sea Salt seem likely.
There has been some speculation, too, that a fourth restaurant spot in the complex might welcome another celebrity-owned concept.
Regardless of Sundial's other tenants, it's clear that chefs on the national stage will be looking to gauge the success of Mina's Locale and Farmtable. Can a concept of this magnitude — 20,000 square feet, with lots of bells and whistles — thrive in what has long been considered a "second-tier" market?
For now, Mina is excited to feed St. Petersburg.
"We want you to get lost in here," he said as he took the podium at the press conference. "This is food you want to share with your family. People don't associate Florida with good product, but there is great product here."
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.