ST. PETERSBURG — When it opened in March 2019, WEPA promised St. Petersburg diners a traditional Puerto Rican experience, right in the ‘burg’s burgeoning Warehouse Arts District.
The restaurant delivered on that promise and then some, serving up bold, colorful and creative takes on everything from pernil asado to yuca escabeche and crispy-fried tostones.
Now, a little more than two years later, the restaurant’s run has come to an end. Owner Jean Totti said he made the tough decision to close the spot last month, citing ongoing health complications, among other reasons.
But the pale yellow building across from 3 Daughters Brewing won’t sit empty for long: This fall, Debbie DeVico O’Neil and her husband Ron O’Neil will open Sol, a new health-focused bistro with an emphasis on allergen-free, farm-to-table dining.
Health is a big focus for the couple, who previously owned the local gym Xtreme Fitness and have worked in health and nutrition throughout their careers.
Leading the kitchen is DeVico O’Neil, who has worked as a caterer and is a certified holistic lifestyle and nutrition coach.
“I have had food allergies my whole life and I cooked my whole life,” said DeVico O’Neil, who described the restaurant’s concept as elevated comfort food that hinges on “allergen-free versions of people’s favorite recipes.”
Everything on the menu will be free of common allergens including gluten, peanuts, soy, refined sugar and inflammatory dairy products. The restaurant will also serve gluten-free beers and a selection of wines and will be slightly more upscale than some of the other health-focused fast-casual restaurants in the area.
Dinner will be featured just four nights a week and by reservation only, from 5 to 10 p.m. On the other days, DeVico O’Neil said they’ll use the space as a test and demonstration kitchen for smaller, private parties.
Right now,DeVico O’Neil said they hope to be open by September.
Totti, who is close friends with the couple, said the decision to turn over the keys to his restaurant was made easier by knowing that the space would continue to be a unique dining destination and one that would fill a void in a neighborhood with evolving dietary preferences.
“They are absolutely the best team for this kind of restaurant,” he said.