ST. PETERSBURG — When Locale Market opened in December, the two-story, 20,000-square-foot collaboration between celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona was the hottest game in town, with hundreds of would-be shoppers queuing for the opportunity to browse wares from 11 different kitchens. San Francisco-based Mina could be seen frequently peering into the sous vide baths or directing things in the liquid-nitrogen ice cream station, but it was Pintabona who was the boots on the ground.
And boots are made for walking.
In mid June, Pintabona relocated back to New York to focus on a television cooking project, confirmed by Locale's management Tuesday.
According to Patric Yumul, president of the Mina Group, this was always part of the plan.
"Don was required to live in St. Petersburg for one year," Yumul said. "We needed him to make connections with the farmers and the area. After that, he could go back home."
Still, Yumul said, Pintabona remains culinary director and partner at Locale Market, which anchors St. Petersburg's rehabbed Sundial complex. But shoppers aren't as likely see the handsome chef who came to prominence at Robert De Niro's award-winning Tribeca Grill.
A number of other staff changes have shaken things up at the rapidly evolving gourmet market, cafe and restaurant.
On Friday, marketing and public relations director Jeff Houck was dismissed. A former food writer for the Tampa Tribune, Houck "was an amazing resource for us," Yumul said. "He's obviously a high-profile public relations person and brings a lot to the table. But most markets can't afford a full-time publicity person."
Moving forward, Yumul said Locale aims to outsource public relations to local firms Kilroy Communications and RKC.me, formerly known as Rearden Killion Communications.
Other staffing shifts have been ongoing. Michael Salmon, hired on as the original director of operations, departed nearly at the time of Locale's debut. Since then, Michael Cohen has been brought on as vice president of operations. Chef Jeffrey Hileman has been promoted to oversee menu curation and food development at the market, and chef Matt Delkemper has risen to oversee FarmTable kitchen and the wine bar.
The first project of its kind for Mina and Pintabona, the learning curve has been steep, Yumul said. The biggest challenge has been learning how to merchandise properly.
"The grill and the restaurant wine bar portion have outperformed our expectations," he said. "So, we've gone back to the drawing board and decided to add more tables and chairs."
This, in turn, has necessitated moving the cheese and charcuterie downstairs, which has caused them "to scale back the produce a little bit."
Overall, has the market's income and growth met projections?
Yumul wouldn't say, exactly.
"We saw unbelievable business in the first few months we were open," he said. "We are looking forward to the summer season concluding so we can get back into the busier time."
As with most restaurants and markets in St. Petersburg, summer is slow.
Despite Pintabona's departure, the owners' bullishness on the project can be gauged by their eagerness to replicate the model.
"I can't speak to where and when, but we are interested in growing the brand," Yumul said. The group is actively seeking other locations, and landlord-partner the Edwards Group, which built Sundial, is eager to partner with them, Yumul said.
Mina and Pintabona originally set their sights on New York, a city already rich in mega-market, restaurant and food court combinations. Since Mario Batali debuted Eataly in New York in 2010, a range of other similar ventures have opened or are in the works.
Television personality Anthony Bourdain will open a global street food marketplace in New York's 3 World Trade Center; Le District, a 30,000-square-foot French marketplace, has opened in New York's Financial District; and in Brooklyn, the Dekalb Market Hall will showcase a 26,000-square-foot food hall with room for dozens of food vendors.
New York shoppers are clearly amenable to chef-driven markets where it's hard to tell exactly where the market ends and the dining begins. Less than a year in, the question for Locale's off-site owners is whether St. Petersburg shoppers are similarly inclined.
Contact Laura Reiley at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.