The life of Margarita Mama's and Banana Joe's in downtown St. Petersburg was but a blip, a life measured in mere weeks. Before that, the Kress building at 475 Central Ave. was rumored to be welcoming a new concept from Michael Cecere (of St. Petersburg's Bowled). That didn't work out either.
Hopefully, third time is the charm. Leon Atwater, of the Atwater's Cafeteria family, has signed on to be head chef for a new upscale soul food concept called Soul.
Samuel Boutros, a lifelong St. Petersburg resident, bought the building in 2011 from George Rahdert, a developer who also is an attorney for the Tampa Bay Times. The 39,000-square-foot building was built in the 1920s by Samuel H. Kress, founder of the S.H. Kress chain of discount stores. Tenant Margarita Mama's was evicted in 2012 because, Boutros said, the tenant had not paid his part of utilities, had failed to address city code violations and owed a number of subcontractors money.
According to Boutros, the building has been subdivided, with an undisclosed national retailer taking on nearly 3,000 square feet on the Fifth Street side of the ground floor and Soul getting the other 4,000 square feet on the ground floor, with more square footage in the basement for private dining and special events. Construction of the new restaurant space begins in April with the aim of completion in the late summer.
"It's by far one of the best business plans I've seen," said Boutros. "It's going to complement downtown. I think it's unique. All of us love some aspect of soul food, and this is going to be an opportunity to dress up a concept that everyone loves, kind of what P.F. Chang's did for Chinese food."
New barbecue next to Ale and the Witch
Just as Tampa Bay Beer Week geared up, the Ale and the Witch owner Brett Andress inked a deal that will likely make the Plaza Tower and Courtyard Shops even busier. According to bartender Tim Evans, on Friday they took on the lease of the El Metate space, the short-lived Mexican restaurant having closed its doors on Feb. 28.
"We've been looking to expand for a while and different thoughts have come up," says Evans. "We wanted to find something to complement the brand we already have here in the courtyard, so we offered them a buyout."
And what goes with craft beer? Barbecue. As soon as the build-out is complete, the Witches BBQ Den will open for takeout (dine-in will follow) with nine housemade sauces and a range of barbecued meats. Evans and crew aren't quite sure about a target opening date, but a barbecue concept makes sense given Andress' long history with Lee Roy Selmon's. The restaurant's address is 111 Second Ave. NE, #209 in St. Petersburg.
More craft beer coming to downtown
There's a craft beer tsunami bubbling downtown in St. Petersburg, making it a destination for beer lovers far and wide. World of Beer, the Ale and the Witch and the recently renamed Empouria are just a few of the draws. Doug Dozark of Peg's Cantina in Gulfport is adding another. His Cycle Brewing has been recognized by serious beer aficionados all over the country, so much so that he has been invited to participate in the Copenhagen Beer Celebration in May, a gathering of the best brewers of the world.
And just after that, he will open Cycle Brewing brewery taphouse at 534 Central Ave. in the space formerly occupied by the Artisan's Gallery.
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"This is more about getting into St. Petersburg than doing another Peg's Cantina," says Dozart. This is really more my project (than that of parents Peg and Tony), but there's always going to be ties between us. We're family."
With the new brewery, Dozart aims to be on the cutting edge of the national craft beer dialogue, brewing about 500 barrels annually.
"I'm focusing on sessionable beers that are as flavorful as high-alcohol beers. Recently my focus has been on a session IPA. Florida is really primed for it."
When asked at what point St. Petersburg is saturated with craft beer, Dozart said, "For craft beer as a whole there will be a day of reckoning in the future. But it's not any time soon as far as I'm concerned."
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.