Rita Janecek will tell me what she’s naming the restaurant, but she doesn’t want me to tell anyone else just yet. She wants it to be a surprise.
She and her husband, Michael, signed a lease on the old Casa Cortez/AquaBella's/Dive Bar late last month, amid rumors of businessman and Caddy’s owner Tony Amico buying the building and getting local laws changed to allow for a package liquor store in part of the building.
The Janeceks run the beach concessions on Pass-a-Grille, Upham and Madeira beaches, operating them under contract with the beach cities. They do not own the buildings but make needed repairs and upgrades as well as provide food service.
The two-story building on Beach and Shore, vacant more often than not since its renovation from Tex-Mex Casa Cortez into a failed -American-fare-themed Aquabella’s in 2004, marks the Janecek’s first foray into indoor dining. They’ve operated to the two St. Pete Beach concessions, Paradise Grill, for five years and the Old Snack Shack on Madeira Beach for three.
“We’ve always wanted to own inside dining. We wanted something where we could have a full menu [and be] a destination regardless of weather,” Rita says as local interior designer Deanna Harm and landscaper Kerry Harvey swirl around the restaurant in a flurry of activity. The Janeceks have hit the ground running, wasting no time getting a remodel underway. She shows me her concept for a name – a suggestion that came from one Paradise Grill’s Facebook fans – and some preliminary sketches but swears me to secrecy.
Next she shows me a photo of oysters, explaining that this restaurant will be a nautically-themed, seafood-intensive restaurant. As for Tony Amico?
“Don’t know him and have never met him,” she says. “We both have the ability to pick out a perfect location. You want something with foot traffic and car traffic.”
While the Realtor, Yvonne Kane, has asked Gulfport council to proceed with getting permission for a package store in that location, Rita says that isn’t in the cards.
“Not at this time,” she says. In the area where Mr. Amico planned to put a package store, she says, she and her husband plan to have a lounge with comfortable chairs and live music.
She talks readily about her plans, asking only that the designer, landscaper, and myself don’t reveal the name of the restaurant. By July 4, though, everyone in Gulfport will know. That’s the target opening date, although she says she and her husband plan to open sooner if they can.
The Janeceks signed a two-year lease that includes a two year option to purchase the building or extend the lease.
They have the first right of refusal.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.