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The State Of The Restaurant Industry – St. Pete 2013

(Photo/Elizabeth Dougherty)

The last time I wrote about this subject, Beach Drive in Downtown St. Petersburg was getting ready to explode with Bella Brava moving in and Cassis was making a statement with their Balthazar-ish New York lookalike space.

Since then, Central Avenue has had its ups and downs. Acropolis moved into the old Bella Brava space, St. Pete Brasserie opened and closed and opened (now under new ownership with Wilko on staff) and lots of small ethnic places have given it a go.

The Grand Central District continues to climb, plateau and then climb some more. The seafood spot owned by Elizabeth Moch didn’t make it, but Taco Bus flourished nearly across the street. Nitally’s with their odd-sounding-yet delicious Thai/Mex fusion continues to prosper. QueensHead lost an amazing chef but seems to be adjusting. Beak’s Old Florida has new ownership under Dan Soronen (previous owner of Old Northeast Tavern and Shackleton’s Folly). Beak’s hired Chef Domenica Macchia to uplift the menu and it seems to be going well.

The most notable development however, is the number of restaurants opening up in the St. Pete Beach area. Just recently, The Riviera made an appearance with its supper club themed menu, looking like a winner in a sea of maybes. Madfish and Snapper’s keep on rolling, serving up seafood, but it looks like The Boulevard which held promise as a charming little bistro, didn’t make it very long.

Silas Dent’s amazingly, stays on, and continues to draw a dinner crowd, even with a temperamental chef and some pretty questionable food being served. The last time I visited, I literally could not eat the food. Meanwhile, a gentleman at the next table said he was sick from his steak.

The Wharf, in spite of its “hole in the wall” shack atmosphere, consistently serves up some good dishes. The lobster nuggets are large, tender and tasty. Nearly across the street is Gennaro’s, a tiny place offering traditional Italian food with a warm atmosphere and friendly servers. Verducci’s is another must-try for Italian food, and is also a small place, so arrive early.

For music lovers who also like low lighting and great food, Middle Grounds has a diverse menu from tuna to steak to my favorite dessert, the flourless chocolate torte.

Other beach restaurants to visit are Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores for the best oysters around, open fire grill and stone crab (when in season). Island Way Grill in Clearwater has a romantic atmosphere and a menu heavy on seafood.

Interestingly enough, many of the more popular restaurants out by the beach don’t get involved in as much social media as do the downtown restaurants. Some experts believe that constantly courting the same customers through social media and special offers can be counterproductive. Regulars love it, but new customers can be put off by the same clique hanging around the bar every week, snubbing strangers who come in to try the restaurant.

Bottom line, if you want your restaurant to grow, follow the stable model of the restaurants by the beach with long-time track records and don’t let one small group of customers dictate how you do business. They could be gone tomorrow, off to the next “trendy” place.

Elizabeth Dougherty has been a food writer for over 10 years, attended culinary school and holds a Bachelor’s degree, Magna Cum Laude in Hospitality, Business and Labor Relations from NYIT. She has been a talk show host of nearly 200 episodes of Food Nation Radio which airs each Saturday afternoon at 4 on WWBA AM820 News and  other stations. You can read her articles and hear previous shows on her podcast page on the Food Nation Radio Network website and on Facebook.


 

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