PORT CHARLOTTE — Evan Longoria has invested his money and associated his name with a new boutique sports bar set to open this spring in South Tampa, but the Rays All-Star third baseman's most significant influence for Ducky's Sports Lounge will be in the kitchen.
"When I was asked to be a part of it, the thing I was more concerned about was how the food was going to be. I focused more than anything on developing the menu so we could kind of differentiate ourselves from just bar food, so to speak, and be able to have people want to go there to eat," Longoria said Thursday.
"And I want to be able to walk through the kitchen and make sure things are going well on that end. Ultimately, that's what keeps people coming back is quality food and quality service. So I think if we can start to build that, we are going to be really successful."
Longoria is one of three main investors, and seven overall owners, in the approximately $850,000 project at 1719 W Kennedy Blvd., just west of downtown and near the University of Tampa.
No opening date is set as the building has just been gutted and has to be built out. When completed, Ducky's will be open seven days, serving lunch, dinner and a late-night menu until 3 a.m. and will feature the usual plethora of TVs for sports viewing, as well as live entertainment. (See duckystampa.com for updates.)
But, besides occasional Longoria sightings, the prime attraction will be mini bowling — similar to the regionally popular duckpin bowling, hence the name — using palm-sized balls on four lanes, with a pair of 80-inch screens at the end.
Longoria, 27, is something of a foodie — he spent New Year's Eve working in the kitchen at Las Vegas' N9NE Steakhouse — and said he hoped eventually to get involved in the restaurant business.
"I love food, and that's always been my goal," he said. "Obviously, I'm focused on baseball more than anything, but in thinking about the future, that's always something I wanted to be a part of."
This opportunity was appealing because he has known the other Tampa-based owners, including attorneys Anthony T. and Anthony P. Prieto and Keith Goan, and Daniel Alvarez, since his 2008 rookie season.
"It was a great point to start because the investment wasn't out of this world, and it was a comfortable investment for me because it was a group of people I've been involved with for a long time so I wasn't going into it blind, not knowing who would be controlling what's going on," said Longoria, who recently signed a $100 million, six-year contract extension though 2022.
The partners would like to franchise the concept, Longoria said, but are obviously focused on the initial launch. The final menu, under the supervision of chef Frankie Midulla (Valencia Gardens, Midulla's) is still in the works, with a tasting March 11, but Longoria said the feature attractions will be a New York-style thin-crust pizza created by veteran Tampa restaurateur Rico Iavarone and a create-your-own salad option. Other planned items include pretzel-wrapped pigs, deviled crab, palomilla steak sandwiches, Italian sausage and media noche sliders, plus a "Healthy Duck" daily special.
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With Longoria's name and the bowling option, Ducky's will attract plenty of attention in the crowded South Tampa bar/restaurant scene. But he knows it takes more than that.
"I've seen a lot of places fail because they try to lean on that celebrity name or that gimmick far too long, and it just doesn't work," Longoria said. "I think we'll do our best to launch the right way and continue to progress so that it's a good experience for everyone that comes in."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.