ST. PETERSBURG — Jacob Linzey doesn’t like to use the word “change.” The president and founder of new restaurant group Volet Hospitality would rather something a little more positive, like “improvement” or “enhancement.”
“The word ‘change’ tends to freak people out,” Linzey said. “They’re simply updates.”
The owner of the new management company overseeing Annata Restaurant & Wine Bar, Alto Mare Fish Bar and 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House on St. Petersburg’s iconic Beach Drive has some surprises in store for the coming year.
In December 2020, the group purchased Annata and Alto Mare from owners Kurt and Mary Cuccaro, whose family also runs Mazzaro’s Italian Market. In May, they acquired 400 Beach Seafood & Tap, which they purchased from longtime owner Steve Westphal.
Linzey said he was drawn to St. Petersburg and Beach Drive NE for several reasons, but said the Tampa Bay area’s growth, Florida’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic (restaurants were only shut down for six weeks compared to other, more restrictive states) and the local restaurant scene’s tight-knit community were all attractive features.
“There’s this weird sense of camaraderie,” he said. “You can just feel this momentum down here.”
We sat down with Linzey to get the scoop on everything in the works for the three restaurants along downtown St. Petersburg’s tony dining promenade.
What is Volet Hospitality?
Originally from Troy, Alabama, Linzey worked in advertising before going into hospitality. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and went on to work in hotel management. He spent a decade with Marriott International, at hotels in Dallas, Orlando, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Doha, Qatar. Most recently, Linzey was the vice president of the New York-based JF Restaurants group.
Linzey moved to St. Petersburg and founded Volet Hospitality as an asset management company in 2020. He runs the company with director of operations Ashley Castillo, another longtime hospitality alum who has worked as a consultant for boutique hotel brands in New York and was the assistant director of food and beverage at the Gaylord Texan.
So far, the group has partnered with longtime Pinellas County residents and philanthropists Shawn and Jeanna Damkoehler, who are listed as owners at 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House and partial owners at Annata and Alto Mare. Linzey would not disclose the details of the sale for any of the properties.
What’s happening with Annata and Alto Mare?
Both restaurants have been closed since July for work on air conditioning and ventilation and are scheduled to undergo a massive remodel that will take down the center wall between both spaces.
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When the restaurants do reopen, instead of two separate eateries, the space will house just one. Linzey said Alto Mare, a seafood focused bistro that opened in 2019, will likely be absorbed into the Annata concept, a wine bar that serves charcuterie and small plates and opened in 2014. Linzey said they would likely keep the Annata name for the new restaurant, but aren’t sure yet.
“The short version is, we’re going to give people what they’ve asked for,” Linzey said. “One of the biggest things, when we started thinking about these renovation plans, is really staying true to the concept of what people liked about Annata and the wine bar feel. It still kind of needs to feel the same, it just needs a little bit of lipstick and rouge and a refresh.”
Both spaces sat 90 people before, and the larger restaurant will seat around 165 total.
What about 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House?
Longtime fans of 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House will have already picked up on some of the changes afoot at the Beach Drive NE mainstay, which recently underwent a complete menu overhaul. But there’s more coming: Once the Annata and Alto Mare space reopens, 400 Beach will close for a full renovation inside the restaurant. Once it reopens, guests can expect a different look, and possibly, a new name and restaurant concept, too.
“We haven’t had a conversation about the name yet, but it kind of makes sense to change it when you change that much,” Linzey said.
“Typically, you get about seven years out of a restaurant before you need to refresh or upgrade or update,” he said. “400 (Beach) is into its 12th year, and not much has changed.”
Westphal opened the iconic eatery in 2009, when it quickly became the downtown strip’s see-and-be-seen spot, a popular place for both locals and tourists.
“It’s a great restaurant that’s done so well,” Linzey said. “Steve did an outstanding job here. It’s just ready for a little refresh, that’s all.”
Will the menus change?
Though Volet Hospitality has its own in-house director of culinary operations (Nick Ocando), Annata executive chef Joshua Breen will continue to oversee the menu at that restaurant and 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House executive chef Jason Lutz will continue to helm the operation there.
Linzey said no major surprises are coming to the new Annata/Alto Mare space. The restaurant will continue to feature the same small plates and charcuterie program that made Annata popular, with some seafood additions from Alto Mare’s menu.
“I think the last thing you want to do is to take a restaurant that has a special place with so many people and to completely turn it upside down and deter from what made it successful,” Linzey said.
It’s a different story at 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House, where the menu has already undergone a complete overhaul. Save for a few longtime fan favorites (the lobster roll, the Florida grouper Oscar) there’s not much from its predecessor that made the cut.
The new menu reads like a more refined and contemporary version of its previous self, with dishes like a kale salad with Grana Padano cheese and white anchovies ($12); cobia collar wings with ginger and soy ($14); Chilean sea bass with fennel, verjus and radishes ($37); shrimp and grits with polenta, bok choy and beef bacon ($25); a 16-ounce Colorado lamb saddle ($40); and an 8-ounce Piedmontese filet mignon ($40).
A slight price uptick reflects the recent surge in food and staffing shortages, which have corresponded with price hikes for ingredients and labor costs, Linzey said.
What’s the timeline for these changes?
The Annata and Alto Mare renovation hasn’t gone as planned. Problems with the air conditioning caused unbearable working conditions for kitchen staff (one day in July, the temperature in the kitchen at Annata clocked in at 116 degrees) and closing down temporarily for repairs was inevitable.
Once construction on Annata and Alto Mare starts, the renovations are expected to take five to six months, Linzey said. A lag in permitting amid a national shortage of building supplies has further pushed the expected reopening date — Februrary at the earliest, Linzey said.
Construction at 400 Beach won’t start until after the Annata/Alto Mare space reopens, pushing renovations for that restaurant into next year. The restaurant will stay open until then but remain closed during the renovations and likely not reopen until 2023.