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The Mansion by the Bay will offer lunch buffet

All-you-can-eat soup, salad and pasta for $4.99 will be served in the Victorian house.

A few months ago, caterer Midge Trubey gave two of her employees money to go on a spree downtown.

"I told them, "Go eat lunch and play. And tell me what's happening,' " Trubey recalled.

Sandy Doscher and Dayna Perkins brought back information suggesting that the downtown lunch scene had room for a new approach.

So Trubey is opening a lunch buffet Tuesday at her historic Mansion by the Bay, 145 Fourth Ave. NE.

"There are wonderful lunch places downtown, but no one is doing this," said Trubey, a St. Petersburg native who has operated the Personal Touch catering and florist business since 1977.

The buffet will be open from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, at least in the beginning. Trubey envisions possible expansion, perhaps to include Sunday brunch or beer and wine.

"Everything is very possible," said Trubey, who also will continue to run the Personal Touch.

The buffet will offer all-you-can-eat soup, salad and pasta for $4.99. Soups and pasta will vary daily. Gourmet desserts such as double-chocolate chocolate chip and Italian rum cake also will be on the menu.

Part of the attraction will be Mansion by the Bay itself, a restored Victorian house built in 1901 for Albert Blocker, one of St. Petersburg's first mayors. In 1927 it became the International Club, a meeting place for clubs and other organizations.

Trubey's personal roots also reach toward the building.

Her grandmother Lulu Poe Herden owned an early 1900s boarding house a block away on Fifth Avenue NE. And an aunt and uncle held their wedding reception in the International House about 65 years ago.

After opening Mansion by the Bay in 1989 as a banquet and reception hall, Trubey bought the building in 1993 from George Rahdert, a lawyer who has purchased and remodeled many old buildings downtown.

Trubey said she and Rahdert (also a Times First Amendment lawyer) created Mansion by the Bay's name while sitting around in his office, kicking around words that might sound both catchy and classy.

It has become a popular site for weddings, receptions, luncheons and club meetings.

Trubey said feedback at events she caters at the Mansion and other downtown locations helped convince her of a market niche for buffet lunches.

She is hoping it will draw a wide range of customers, noting that Mansion is a short walk from Beach Drive, where upscale shops nudge new condominiums, one of them still under construction.

"We want the Florida Power lineman in there as much as office secretaries," she said.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.