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Lee Roy Selmon's original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

A jersey replica worn by Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Football Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon is framed in a display case inside of Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant at the original location on Boy Scout Boulevard in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Published Jun. 5, 2018

Lee Roy Selmon's, the restaurant that paid homage to the community icon who rose to fame as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and grew to become a popular civic leader, will shutter the doors of its original location on Tampa's Boy Scout Boulevard in June.

Employees learned of the closing on Wednesday morning. Owner MVP Holdings has converted a number of Selmon's locations into Glory Days restaurants, but it won't do so with the Boy Scout spot. The property is owned by Bloomin' Brands, the Tampa-based company that owns Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill among others restaurants. Bloomin' will build a new Outback Steakhouse at the location.

The closure moves the chain closer to being completely phased out, a desire of the Selmon family. Most of its locations have been converted to Glory Days family-friendly sports bars in recent years. Since Selmon's death in 2011, said Selmon's widow Claybra Selmon, it has been difficult for the family to maintain its affiliation.

"On behalf of the entire Selmon family, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Tampa Bay community for all of the amazing love and support they have shown the Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant over the past 17 years," Claybra Selmon said in a statement released by MVP Holdings. "The restaurants were indeed a dream that Lee Roy was able to see come to fruition and enjoy for many years before his death. We are so very grateful for the partnership we've shared with MVP and for each and every person who has ever been employed by Selmon's and had a hand in it's success.

"Lee Roy's spirit will live on in this great city forever."

In 2000, then Outback Steakhouse Inc. opened the restaurant with Selmon, a OSI board member, serving as part owner. It immediately gained attention because of the stature of Selmon, a former Buc, banking executive and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame whose name adorns the Tampa Hillsborough Crosstown Expressway.

It quickly grew into a favorite among diners because of its Southern comfort entrees, many tied to Selmon's Oklahoma roots, like Sweet Heat Fried Chicken, Mama's Meatloaf and Soul Good Pulled Pork. Selmon didn't just lend his name. He lent his mother's recipes, participated in tastings and contributed branding knowledge.

"It's bittersweet," said Basham, one of the OSI co-founders and a partner in Selmons, then and now. "It obviously brings back a lot of fond memories of Lee Roy and the time he spent in there at all the tastings. It is the end of the era."

Selmon's eventually expanded into multiple locations in Tampa Bay as well as Sarasota and Fort Myers.

The original location was a popular gathering for University of South Florida sports fans. Selmon left banking in 1993 to spearhead the creation of the university's football program. He served as the Bulls' athletic director from 2001 to 2004, and was working for the school at the time of his death in 2011.

MVP Holdings, the company created by former OSI founders Chris Sullivan and Bob Basham, and partner Nick Reader, took control of Selmon's in 2008, and the chain continued to thrive. However, MVP eventually converted locations in New Tampa, Palm Harbor and Carrollwood into Glory Days sports bars starting in late 2015. It closed the Tyrone Square location in St. Petersburg in 2016, and converted its Brandon store into a Glory Days in 2017.

Locations remain open in Sarasota and Fort Myers, but those are likely to be converted into Glory Days in the coming months.

Basham said Wednesday the restaurant will now focus on giving Selmon's a proper farewell. Fans who enjoyed the memoribilia that made up the restaurant's ambience will have a chance to purchase it at a special event on June 25. Proceeds will go to the Selmon Mentoring Institute, a specialized program for USF student athletes.

"It'll be a great way to honor him and we're doing it with the blessings of the Selmon Family," Basham said. "He was just a humble man. Besides from him breaking your hand when you shook hands with him, you would never know he was a football star. He never bragged about himself. It was all about other people. It was never about him."

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