ST. PETERSBURG - Bodega, the wildly popular Latin restaurant on Central Avenue, is relocating —but not very far.
Known for its long lines of hungry Cuban sandwich lovers, the restaurant will move a few hundred feet up the street into a vintage building now occupied by the Mis en Chic antiques store.
Bodegea’s owners said Friday that they’ve run out room at their current location at 1120 Central despite efforts to enlarge the space.
"We outgrew it five years ago, but we never had an opportunity to stay on this block,'' said George Sayegh, who opened Bodega with his wife, Debbie, in 2012. "While we were working (on the current restaurant), this opportunity presented itself. We’ll have inside seating, a better kitchen.''
"It will be a lot more comfortable for our employees,'' his wife added.
The couple said they hope to finish construction on the new space in May although they are not certain whether Bodega will temporarily close at some point. All 32 full and part-time employees will be retained, they said.
Bodega, which serves such traditional Cuban fare as black beans, roast pork and coconut-marinated chicken, has more than 2,300 mostly rave reviews on Google. "Great food, good staff, good service,'' reads one review. "Their biggest challenge is keeping up with demand...time to expand?''
Customers now line up to order at a street-front window. They can use outdoor seating in the back or front and Bodega’s juice bar next door has indoor seating.
Investor Blake Thompson paid $1.4 million in October for the Mis en Chic building, which dates to 1933 and is in the heart of the thriving Edge District. Store owner Heidi Kiffin, who bought the building for $410,000 seven years ago when the area was just starting to take off, said she doesn’t know if she can stay or will go elsewhere when her lease expires early next year.
"I sold the building,'' she said. "I didn’t sell the business.''
Thompson said he heard from several potential tenants eager to locate in the district, which is flush with shops, restaurants and new apartments. "They’ve offered me a lot of money,'' he said, "but I’m not going to throw just anything in there.'’
Bodega’s new location will be across a narrow alley from what is slated to be The Edge Collective, a mixed-use project in the 1200 block of Central that is to include a 161-room hotel and food hall run by the team behind Tampa’s Hall on Franklin. A Miami company is partnering on the project with the previous owners, Tricera Partners of Miami and St. Petersburg-based Eastman Equity.
Tricera Eastman still owns the building in which Bodega is now located. "They’ve been very easy with us and easy going'' about moving out, Debbie Sayegh said. "I love this building, it’s just the cutest little building but it’s really in disrepair.''
Last year, the couple opened a Bodega in Tampa’s Seminole Heights. "It’s going great,'' George said, predicting that Seminole Heights could one day be as bustling as the Edge District.