The celebrity chef-owned Grey Salt restaurant at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa will close in February, the casino has announced, saying it didn't fit into the casino's new construction and expansion project.
Helmed by Marc Murphy, a regular judge on Food Network's Chopped and frequent guest on other hit cooking shows, the 240-seat Mediterranean spot opened in 2015, taking the place of the casino's diner-style Green Room.
This was Murphy's first restaurant outside of New York. And for the Tampa Bay area, it was new territory for a big-name chef aiming to expand his holdings.
"We are disappointed to announce the closing of Grey Salt," casino president John Fontana said in a news release, "but changes to the design of our current expansion project leave us no choice at this time." He praised Murphy and his team "and hope our paths cross again in the future."
Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley gave the restaurant high marks for the food when she reviewed Grey Salt in December 2015. But she found in two dinner visits that the dining room was nearly empty.
"For casino gamblers, it is neither fish nor fowl — not the high-stakes pinnacle, nor the consoling bargain," she observed in her review. "And little has been done to attract folks in the area who aren't already at the casino. Self-parking requires a 20-minute cacophonous walk through the whole of the smoky casino."
A Seminole Tribe spokesman denied it was poor restaurant sales that prompted the decision, saying it was all about the construction issues.
The Hard Rock has been undergoing a construction and renovation project since June. The project includes an additional parking garage with 750 spaces, a new 30,000-square-foot premium gaming area, a new poker room and a new portico-like structure at an entrance.
"It's a hugely successful casino, one of the largest in the world, and there's only so much they can do with the space," said spokesman Gary Bitner. "In the end, it's about maximizing the value of the property."
According to Fontana, no team members will lose their jobs. Employees of Grey Salt are being given alternate job assignments immediately as well as priority in hiring for existing food and beverage outlets at the Seminole Hard Rock.
Murphy also issued a statement thanking his team for their hard work and said, "I am already looking forward to finding a new home for my Mediterranean-inspired eatery."
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