1. Food

Sessa family moves its "empire" north to Hernando County

If you've gone past the former Saint Sebastiaan Belgian Microbrewery on U.S. 19 south of Spring Hill Drive or dropped by the Silverthorn County Club off Barclay Avenue in Spring Hill in recent weeks, you may be wondering what in the world is going on. Both are jumping with delivery trucks, painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, landscapers, and a whole raft of other workers scurrying about.

It all can be explained in one word: Sessa.

As in Nick Sessa, Sal Sessa, Margaret Sessa, Jason Sessa, Michelle Sessa and her husband, Billy Beetz (well, everybody can't be named Sessa).

Starting in the early 1990s, Nick and Sal built what some people called the "Sessa entertainment empire" in Pasco and Hernando counties. First, a video store, then a skating rink, and then the Show Palace Dinner Theater for plays and musicals. They added the Palace Grand for entertainers, banquets and receptions and, finally, the Palace Plaza for smaller events.

Then, over the past couple of years, they've all quietly departed the empire, selling the largest two venues — the Show Palace and Palace Grand to longtime entertainer/restauranteur Tommy Mara and his wife, Vicki.

Now the Sessas are building two new enterprises a hop, skip and jump up the road.

In 2011, eager for a change, Sal and Margaret and their adult offspring, Jason and Michelle, left the Show Palace to open Rookies Sports Bar and Grill near the Suncoast Parkway off Spring Hill Drive.

Its family-friendly atmosphere clicked with the community. Now Michelle and Billy, a retired Hernando County sheriff's deputy, are opening a second Rookies, this one in the microbrewery, and bringing in Orlando's award-winning Orange Blossom Brewery to make the beer.

Nick left the Show Palace in April, after he and the new Show Palace owners couldn't agree on how to run the business. He started helping daughter Katy and her husband Chris Milano get their new skating rink in his long-ago spot on County Line Road going, but was soon approached by the new owner of the Silverthorn County Club building (Jerry Heard is keeping the golf course) to remodel and run the place as an upscale restaurant and banquet hall open to the public.

"I'm me again," Nick Sessa said with a smile, as he juggled the demands of his cell phone, a stack of messages, a steady stream of workers and the kitchen staff. He chatted with golfers in the 100-seat lounge, then rushes to meet a group arriving in the spacious foyer for an evening seminar and dinner in the grand ballroom.

Nick Sessa is immersed in redoing the inside of the facility in a handsome setting and playing the happy host — just as he did for 16 years at the Show Palace. His silent partner has granted him a free hand to do (and spend) what is necessary to make the place a showpiece.

That includes repainting and remodeling the conference room, bridal dressing rooms, the veranda, kitchen and restrooms. Granite is replacing Formica and small, multi-hued glass blocks the old tiles. His pride and joy is the 350-seat ballroom with large, arched windows overlooking a lake and golf course.

"We're getting new, padded chairs, heavy carpets, new window (treatments), a dance floor, a large, pull-down (movie) screen and sound system and a huge, crystal chandelier," Sessa said. A portable stage will be available for special shows and performances.

For now, lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, with a menu ranging from $2.95 for soup to $12.95 for the Pittsburgh Steak Salad. Dinner is 5:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Fridays.

"We plan to start delivery service to our 800 Silverthorn homes, and lunch and drinks delivered by golf cart to players on the (golf) course," Sessa said.

Meanwhile, over on U.S. 19. …

"I'm tired," said a harried Michelle Sessa Beetz, as she supervised the details of remodeling the cavernous microbrewery/restaurant into a cozier, more appealing Rookies Sports Bar and Grill that opened last week.

Michelle and Billy are aware that four previous restaurants have not made it in this space, but think its time has arrived and they're the ones who will make it go.

Since 2001, when Saint Sebastiaan was built, a big shopping center has gone in across the highway and the new Pasco-Hernando Community College campus opened just down the road. Besides, the Beetzes have gone out of their way to make Rookies a place where everyone from pre-schooler to great-grandmother can be comfortable. The casual clothes of the male and female waiters, for example, put emphasis on service, not sex appeal.

The new owners have busted out several full walls to open the place up, but kept half-walls to give privacy and a feeling of organization. Some areas are quiet; some have pool tables or electronic games. All are fitted with big, flat-screen televisions hung at good viewing height.

"We've put $7,000 worth of sound-deadening materials into the ceiling and walls," Michelle said, addressing a problem that has plagued the building's previous four incarnations. The new owners are also working on an outdoor patio for smokers and a separate deck for those who want to eat outdoors.

The menu mirrors that of the original Rookies — plates of appetizers to share, burgers, fries, salads, wings, shrimp, ribs, fish, soups, desserts. All but a couple of items cost less than $10. The separate brewery will set its own prices and brew its own choices of beers.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. If a game runs later than that, the place stays open until the game ends.

And further south U.S. 19 in Hudson. …

Show Palace owners Vicki and Tommy Mara have announced a series of Broadway musicals lasting through June 7, 2015, signifying the shows will go on.