TAMPA — In 2005, the Italian restaurant BellaBrava made big waves when it opened on a still up-and-coming stretch of St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue. Five year later, BellaBrava’s move to Beach Drive cemented that strip as the hottest new restaurant row in downtown St. Petersburg.
Now, as the restaurant prepares to celebrate its 15th anniversary, the proprietors of the popular eatery have announced they will open a second location — in one of the most widely anticipated Tampa real estate developments in years.
BellaBrava will open inside the massive Midtown Tampa development in early 2021, said Thomas Sanborn, the president of 2B Hospitality, the restaurant group that runs BellaBrava and neighboring Beach Drive restaurant Stillwaters Tavern.
“For three years, we looked for a spot in Tampa,” Sanborn said. “We wanted something with a similarly buzzy, big city vibe.”
“Buzzy” is certainly the right word for the yet-to-open, 1.8 million-square-foot complex at the southeast corner of N Dale Mabry Highway and Interstate 275. The $500 million project from New York-based real estate developer Bromley Companies is projected to open by the time the Super Bowl returns to Tampa in February 2021.
When open, the mixed-use development will also house the largest Whole Foods Market in the Tampa Bay region, a dual-branded Aloft and Element hotel and an REI co-op, as well as three office towers, apartments and other yet-to-be-named retail concepts.
This week, the Tampa Bay Times toured what will become the new BellaBrava, walking through the raw space with Sanborn and BellaBrava managing partners Robert Sanderson and Dyce Craig.
The new space will be “completely unique” from the St. Petersburg spot, Sanborn said. Though smaller than the multi dining room Beach Drive location, the Tampa space allows for tall ceilings and an open and expansive floor plan, with a large bar and glass partitions overlooking an outdoor patio. Inside will include seating for approximately 150 people, and the outdoor patio will feature an additional 75 seats.
BellaBrava, which will occupy a 4,500-square-foot space at Midtown’s main entrance off Cypress Street, is the latest of several big food concepts to be announced, including a new restaurant from chef Chris Ponte of Clearwater’s lauded Cafe Ponte, Hyde Park’s On Swann and the recently opened Italian restaurant Olivia in South Tampa.
Other Midtown Tampa restaurants include a Shake Shack, a Burton’s Bar & Grill and True Food Kitchen, the health-conscious restaurant co-founded by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Andrew Weil. In total, developers have said they expect to bring on six to eight full-service restaurants, many of them new to the market.
The owners are still looking for an executive chef to oversee the project (chef Josh Link will continue to helm the Beach Drive operation) but diners can expect the same New World Italian fare of pasta and antipasti, Sicilian flatbreads, Tuscan-inspired burgers, pizza, seafood and calzones.
As for an opening date, the owners hope to be open in time for the Super Bowl.
“Even if it’s just a few weeks before,” Sanborn said. “We’ll be open.”