Jamie Farquharson keeps trying to get out of the restaurant business, but he can't.
"It's a disease," he said jokingly. "I swear off it for a while, and then I find myself going back to it," he said.
Farquharson, 61, last week opened his 13th restaurant, Beak's Old Florida, at 2451 Central Ave.
Over the past 31 years he has sold off the others and worked in fields from mortgage banking to music to alternative health. He can't help sharing the North Carolina charm that once made him famous as the creator of the original Bubble Room on Captiva Island.
Farquharson is cautious not to talk about the Bubble Room because when he sold it in 1990, he agreed not to trade on its fame. Unlike the Christmas-light-themed Bubble Room, Beak's is aimed at a "home away from home" feel, he said.
Beak's serves small plates of "savory" food. Farquharson said he's learned a lot since opening his first restaurant in Dallas in 1974, and its mostly that authenticity is more important than volume.
Beak's has only 51 seats in a cozy grouping that feels more like your neighbor's back yard than a restaurant. It's quirky design is personal.
The decor includes paint-by-number art of birds and bathing beauties, but also mid century tourist detritus one might find cleaning out a Hudson Hornet. There are birds, of course, and a pirate in the middle of a bamboo bar. Farquharson built glass-topped tables that hold trinkets. It's odd, but it's real.
"There's a fine line between funk and contrived," he said. "It's more camp than kitsch."
The food also is aimed more at gathering than eating. Farquharson said he learned to cook working at his mother's side. Beak's has that air of hanging out in the kitchen talking with friends, stealing bites as the meal comes together.
"There's refueling and then there's food that's made with love and lends itself to conversation," Farquharson said. "This is not a place to go if you're starving," he said.
The restaurant also is aimed at adults. Guests must be 21 or older. Farquharson offers unique, unknown wines, craft beers on tap, and better liquors, no cheap stuff.
But the main thing Farquharson wants to come across is service. He's in the hospitality business, but says the term now lacks meaning.
"People rarely think what hospitality means," he said. "It's about being gracious."
Farquharson said he wants his staff to be comfortable and think of customers as friends, not clients.
"You want them to have their mind on the other side of the table or bar," he said, "instead of people just being processed."
Farquharson said he's had this idea for a restaurant for many years but couldn't quite find the right place at the right time. He tried to put it in Panama City Beach then South Tampa, but couldn't find the right site. He visited Grand Central with his fiancee and partner, Evelyn Powell, and they fell in love with the location and the opportunity.
That was a year ago. It's taken longer to get started than ever before, Farquharson said, mainly because of new government hurdles. He still doesn't have his full menu on offer as he ramps up, but he's glad to be done and welcoming the neighborhood to this hearth.
"This is my last fling," he said.
Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org or by participating in itsyourtimes.com .
IF YOU GO
Beak's Old Florida
2451 Central Ave.
Hours: 3:30-11:30 p.m.