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New steakhouse is carving a niche

Part of the appeal of living in central Pasco is the ability to live a quiet life outside of the city while remaining about a 20 to 30 minute drive away from Tampa's dining and entertainment establishments.

But for those looking for a fun and slightly upscale dining environment closer to home, the possibilities have been limited.

John Christen saw a niche. Last July, he opened John Christen's Brewmaster Steakhouse on State Road 54 next to County Road 581. His idea was to offer local residents fine dinners and a fun environment a la Outback or Chili's without them having to drive to Tampa or New Port Richey.

Add to that reasonable prices and free, all-you-can-drink draft beer, wine or sangria with any dinner purchase, and you have the makings of a success, said kitchen manager Tracy Langway.

"We're doing pretty good," said Langway, who said he has opened the kitchens of all three Christen-owned Brewmaster steakhouses. The other two are in Tampa, on N Dale Mabry Highway and on Cypress Street.

"It's been picking up a lot since we opened," Langway said. "We've been doing a lot of advertising, in newspapers, television, and on billboards, you name it."

Langway said business is strong enough at the three stores that Christen is looking at two more sites to open in the near future. But Langway said he is not sure where the next one will open.

"We're going to be in business for a long time, and we'll be opening more stores soon," he said. "It's really catching on. This is a real good concept John Christen put together."

Times weren't always so good for Brewmaster steakhouses. The three current Tampa Bay stores represent the second version of the concept. The last restaurant of the first version closed its doors in July 1991 after a 15 years at Countryside Mall in Clearwater.

That restaurant filed to liquidate its assets under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Langway said that the problems that prompted those closings have been corrected and will not recur.

The Wesley Chapel restaurant brings in clientele from all over, said Langway. They include locals from the Saddlebrook and Quail Hollow areas and some people from Land O'Lakes, Zephyrhills, Dade City, Lutz and north Tampa.

A Times reporter visited the Wesley Chapel restaurant last Thursday and ordered dinner and a small quantity of the free draft beer _ a choice between Stroh's and Stroh's light. The dinner was tasty, the beer was cold, and the service was fast and reasonably responsive.

The bill, not including tip, was less than $10.

Two parties interviewed after their dinner agreed they liked the restaurant for the free drinks and as a lower-cost alternative to restaurants such as Outback.

"There aren't too many nice places around here to take someone for a good dinner and drinks," said Terry Dugan, a Quail Hollow resident who dined with his girlfriend, Rebecca Ramirez.

"It's not a bad place," said Carla Heller, who dined with friends. She has been there four times since it opened. "You can hang out and drink and have a good time."