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New restaurant fills void in Safety Harbor

Many hope the new Green Springs Cafe will be as popular as Blue Gardenia, which moved to Tampa last month.

Patti O'Neal used to look forward to the smell.

The aroma of roasted garlic and seafood from the Blue Gardenia restaurant around the corner would waft through her Skin Deep Facial Salon at the end of her work day.

"It was that particularly well-cooked food that called me over there when I got off," O'Neal said. "I miss them terribly."

When Blue Gardenia, one of Safety Harbor's more popular evening dining spots, picked up and moved to Tampa three weeks ago, it left a hole in the hearts and stomachs of many of the town's restaurantgoers.

And while locals are left wondering what will become of the future of dining here, many hope a new restaurant a block west of the site will pick up where Blue Gardenia left off.

Paul Kapalis and his fiancee, Kris Kubik, opened Green Springs Cafe & Gathering Place at 122 Third Ave. N on Tuesday, serving a light breakfast menu of muffins and fruits and a lunch menu of soups and sandwiches.

The couple said it will be at least three months before the restaurant, which stands on the former site of a Buddhist temple, will begin serving dinner.

"This (Main Street) strip has the potential to be the area everyone walks to and you can see little pockets of that happening," Kubik said. "And with places like the Blue Gardenia and Green Springs, it will happen."

Kapalis worked at Blue Gardenia as a head chef before that restaurant closed. He says although he would have liked it to stay, he understands the owners' reasons for leaving and will try to cater to the night-time dining crowd in Safety Harbor.

"We're upset they left because we planned to work together a lot with our businesses," Kapalis said. "But we still see a large need for evening dining in this community and it's going to be our goal to provide that need."

That may be a challenge, some say.

"The nightlife just isn't here," said Tony Comeiro, owner of T&T's salon, which is next door to where Blue Gardenia used to be. "There's no reason to come to Safety Harbor unless you want your hair done. I think he made the right decision by leaving and I think he'll do well."

Blue Gardenia, a tiny bistro off Main Street owned by Tom and Emily Golden, opened three years ago to mediocre reviews but later blossomed into a place known for good Italian food and a classy atmosphere.

But the couple decided early last month to close because the restaurant didn't attract the amount of business they had hoped.

"There was so much potential in that town and that market, but it never developed," said Tom Golden. "It was a very frustrating situation. We just weren't making the money we needed to make down there."

Safety Harbor business officials say the city's restaurant scene is still alive and includes restaurants Cellos, the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa Cafe and the Paradise cafe.

And now, Green Springs.

"The Blue Gardenia did bring a nice trendy atmosphere to Safety Harbor and the reason it did so well is because there was nothing else like it here," said Anne Neil Piccone, executive director of the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce. "But I think it's perfect that when the Blue Gardenia closed we got a new addition with Green Springs, which I think will bring that same kind of feel when they serve dinner."