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Leverock's will open on Pasadena Avenue

After nearly disappearing from the Pinellas County restaurant scene, Leverock's is coming back with a new location in South Pasadena.

The nearly 50-year-old seafood chain that had 12 locations around the area and state closed its last main site in April when owners sold a St. Pete Beach property to make room for condos. But as one door closed, plans are in the works for another to open.

"We weren't sure we were going to stay in the restaurant business," said George Lewis, one of the owners. "But as I was leaving St. Pete Beach, I saw the sign for this other property."

The new Leverock's will be at 840 S Pasadena Ave., which was most recently a Ponderosa Steak House. Lewis said the new store will open in January after interior renovations and enough external modification so it will have a distinct identity. Lewis said he saved some of the memorabilia from the St. Pete Beach store just in case.

The new restaurant will be smaller - 175 seats compared to 300 in the old restaurant - but will have a familiar feel for those who visited the Corey Circle business since its opening in 1984.

Leverock's started in 1948 at U.S. 19 and 70th Avenue in Pinellas Park and at one point had several waterfront properties. Lewis, a developer and real estate broker, said stand-alone waterfront restaurants have become a tough proposition because the land is too expensive.

The new restaurant is not on the water but is close to the old location and aimed to appeal to a similar customer base, he said.

Given that the old restaurant was tucked away off the beaten path, the new site might benefit more from exposure than the old one did with its views of Boca Ciega Bay.

Lewis and partner John Stross bought the chain in 1981 after founder Johnny Leverock died.

At its peak, there were stores from Jacksonville to Fort Myers. In 2000, the partners sold all but the St. Pete Beach place to Gold Coast Restaurants, but that firm filed for bankruptcy in 2004. The only remaining franchise is a restaurant in Cape Haze in Charlotte County.

Before the St. Pete Beach restaurant closed, it had its busiest months as customers hurried to get one last taste. Lewis said the new restaurant will have a similar menu to the old but will also add some new touches to broaden the customer base. He said he has no specific plans to expand to more locations but is open to the possibility.

"If it's a big hit, maybe we'll be looking for another location," he said. "If it feels good ..."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

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