It was August 2015. Jeff Vinik's highly anticipated Channelside construction was much in the news. Curtis Hixon and Tampa's Riverwalk were recent additions and all of downtown seemed rife with new promise and energy.
Paul Greenberg, Rick Mijares and Rick's parents, Tony and Laurie Mijares, took notice, targeting Harbour Island for their third location of American Social Bar and Kitchen. And on Oct. 30, the sweeping restaurant finally opened its doors, more than a year past a target date.
Delayed and delayed again, Rick Mijares cites Murphy's law.
"We had unforeseen delays with our permitting and a few months into construction, our permits got held up again," he said. "The upside was it allowed us to focus on other restaurants, but also to elaborate on design."
They debuted their first upscale sports bar and "farm-to-table" restaurant in 2012 on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and expanded with a second location last year in the tiny downtown Miami Brickell area. For Greenberg and Mijares, Tampa's burgeoning waterfront area made sense for a third location.
The location at 601 S Harbour Island Blvd. contains more than 9,000 square feet of interior space and 5,000 square feet of bayfront patio dining. Delays, Mijares says, allowed the design team to figure out how to maximize water views, and allowed them to bring in old Chicago brick as part of the design, as well as custom millwork and cabinetry and 24 VIP lockers, rentable for high-end customers. They have hired 177 locals to staff the huge restaurant, with corporate chef Chris Palmer (who has worked under Daniel Boulud and was Celine Dion's private chef) and four other employees coming from the East Coast locations.
Within walking distance of the Tampa Bay Convention Center and Amalie Arena, and with ample boat docking and valet parking, AmSo (as fans call it) sits directly next to Jackson's, Harbour Island's longtime 900-pound gorilla.
While Jackson's is a landmark, Mijares said, AmSo brings something different to the table.
"We developed a restaurant-bar with a high-end look and feel but at a price point that's extremely reasonable," he said. "With no microwaves, no freezers, food is prepared daily. And then we added a sports element to it: boxing, MMA, World Cup, if there's a ball game on it's going to be on the TV."
In an intensely competitive restaurant climate, and with much talk of an imminent restaurant recession, American Social will have to distinguish itself to create a niche among Tampa's young professionals.
As of Thursday night, however, it was three deep at the bar, even after Lightning fans had hightailed it to Amalie Arena. Greenberg says the focus right now is on working out the kinks on Harbour Island, but that there has been some talk of targeting Tampa Bay's other restaurant hotspot, downtown St. Petersburg.
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.