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Pier wants a seafood restaurant

(ran LA edition of LT)

The city's biggest bay-side attraction could be getting a bit of the sea to augment its dining experiences.

The location, home to Alessi Cafe at The Pier, will become a seafood restaurant, possibly operated by a regional chain, according to Bay Plaza Cos.

Phil Alessi, who owns the cafe, will relinquish his spot on the first floor of The Pier and turn his attention to the food court where the Alessi family runs a full-service deli, yogurt shop and steak sandwich shop. That area will take on the look of a farmer's market with food prepared before customers, cook-offs and food classes.

The other two restaurants at The Pier, which is managed by Bay Plaza, are the Columbia Restaurant and Cha Cha Coconuts Tropical Bar & Grille.

Information about the seafood restaurant was sketchy Wednesday. Pier general manager Bill Griffith could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

A Bay Plaza press release did not say which seafood restaurant the company is negotiating with or give a timetable for the restaurant's opening.

Plans have not been finalized, the release said.

Richard Gonzmart, president of the Columbia Restaurant, said he had tried to get the space. "They wanted another company to market The Pier just as we have marketed The Pier," he said. He did not know who Bay Plaza is negotiating with.

Gonzmart said if the negotiations don't work out, he wants the space on the first floor.

"I know they (Bay Plaza) have a few candidates that are really interested" for the seafood restaurant, Alessi said. He did not know who the candidates are.

The Alessi's Cafe area would be turned over to The Pier on July 5, Alessi said. Between 30 and 60 days later, the food court would get the new look.

He said his cafe had done well, but offered that it really was not his area of expertise. "I'm really strongest in the food court, coming up with food concepts."

Some of the new Alessi attractions were pioneered at the Alessi Farmers Market in northwest Hillsborough County, he said. Alessi turned over the day-to-day operations of the market to partners in 1989 and it closed a year later.

Attractions could include saltwater taffy machines, food prepared in front of customers and weekly cooking and baking classes, according to the press release.

Chief among those attractions will be live bees in a honey-comb, Alessi said. "People can come and see how they actually make honey. Then we'll have a lot of products with honey.... Kids used to love to watch that at the farmer's market, even the big kids."

The idea for a seafood restaurant came out of three marketing focus groups Bay Plaza held in December. The groups said a seafood restaurant would be an asset to The Pier and go well with the waterfront location, the release said.

Alessi's Cafe is not the only restaurant at The Pier headed for a change. In late May, the City Council agreed to renegotiate a lease with Columbia Restaurant to have the third floor rented to a museum.

The Columbia Restaurant is on the third and fourth floors. The restaurant would give up the third floor it uses for banquets to a museum by the end of the year, Gonzmart said.

Organizers from non-profit organizations, government agencies and educational institutions say they will have plans for the museum by the end of August. Planners for the museum also must come up with a way to pay for it.

Bay Plaza also is developing six blocks of waterfront property near The Pier into a shopping and dining district.

Alessi and Gonzmart agree that the secret to making The Pier work is to get local residents to keep coming back. "After that, the tourists are just a plus," Alessi said.

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