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CHEF CHRIS PONTE OUT AT BURGER 21'S OWNER

Chef Chris Ponte sees opportunity in his split from Front Burner Brands, the umbrella group that is behind Burger 21, for which Ponte developed a chef-driven menu of sandwiches.

"It's disappointing, because I was there from the start," said Ponte, the chef-owner of Cafe Ponte in Clearwater. "But now I have time to pursue a couple of other projects that I'd been working on."

He says he hopes to divulge details on those plans in the coming weeks, but for now says there are two projects that he's working on with new partners.

Ponte worked with Front Burner, a group that also includes Melting Pot and Grillsmith restaurants, for three years. He was also working with the group on a casual Italian concept called Peel. Front Burner says that Peel is on the "back burner" while it concentrates on the expansion of Burger 21.

Ponte said he and Front Burner parted after they couldn't reach an agreement to continue the partnership.

"I didn't feel like the offer they were making was something I could accept," he said.

Burger 21's menu of beef, chicken, turkey and shrimp burgers has been a hit since opening in Westchase in late 2010. Concurrently with announcing Ponte's departure, Front Burner also announced Burger 21's second location, on Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood. It's expected to open this fall.

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