ST. PETERSBURG — Like the universe itself, Mazzaro Italian Market has steadily expanded, now taking up most of a city block of 22nd Avenue N. In March the Cuccaro family's beloved gourmet market will launch a satellite of sorts downtown.
Kurt Cuccaro, who along with parents Sam and Patricia owns the popular market, will branch out on his own with an as-of-yet-unnamed wine bar and small plates restaurant. The new venture will be at 300 Beach Drive NE, in the space formerly occupied by AnnaStella Cajun Bistro. Also in that strip of businesses are the Hooker Tea Co. and Paciugo gelato shop.
The bistro closed Jan. 1 and by the next day, Kurt Cuccaro had snapped up the space and begun planning: lots of wines by the glass; breads, charcuterie and cheeses from Mazzaro; and yet another reason Beach Drive is becoming one of the Tampa Bay area's pre-eminent dining destinations.
The 50-seat enoteca (Italian for "wine bar") will not be Cuccaro's first solo venture — he owned six St. Pete Bagel locations and a downtown St. Petersburg sandwich spot called Buon Giorno in the late 1990s before returning to work with his parents.
Why now, and why downtown St. Petersburg?
"I have been talking about doing something in the restaurant business for quite some time," Cuccaro says. "I heard about the space becoming available through a friend — it wasn't on the market yet. I pursued the space and here we are."
Cuccaro thinks the casual "sit and nibble" concept will complement Beach Drive's array of full-service restaurants, from Parkshore and Cassis to the new Birch & Vine at the Birchwood. He also believes that a wine bar concept, heavy on the Italian wines, will work nicely with downtown's dense concentration of craft beer bars.
"I didn't choose this concept because of all the craft beer, but it's a good reason. I'm not a big beer person. If that were my passion I would probably do that even if there's a lot of beer around."
He's hopeful a broad by-the-glass wine program and a tapas-style concept — buoyed by the fabled Mazzaro connection — will draw locals as well as tourists.