BRADENTON -- A Cuban flair is set to return to downtown in early July with the opening of Havana Cabana Dos.
Longtime Manatee County restaurateur John Droukas is returning to downtown after eight years. He left when the Keene building at 512 10th St. W. was purchased through eminent domain to build the county's judicial center and parking deck. While opening a restaurant downtown, he is also keeping his Havana Cabana in Holmes Beach at 5904 Marina Drive.
Painting is finished and now he has to clean up, set up equipment and obtain permits to open. Droukas even made sure to have the same paint job inside that his former downtown Havana Cabana had.
"We're trying to get the same vibe back," he said. "We're trying to make it look like a business that's been here for 10 years."
Havana Cabana Dos will take over the former space of Lucky Dogs at 318 12t St. W., and will cater to the bar crowd, but without selling beer, wine or liquor. The new place will seat about 20 inside with room for 10 people outside. Droukas expects to employ three to four people.
Just like a good party that never wants to end, Droukas is putting a question mark down for his closing time on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
"I may stay open until 3 in the morning," he said. "I'm not sure, but I think there's a lot of money to be made here from 9 p.m. to 3 in the morning."
His tentative hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. He'll open at 7 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. When the fun ends is to be determined.
Dave Gustafson, executive director of the Down
town Development Authority, said Droukas' return to downtown is a good signal for Bradenton.
"He's a tested restaurant owner who comes here with years of experience and a superb reputation out on the island," he said. "He has previous experience in downtown, he now wants to be in downtown because he recognizes the energy and synergy we have."
Droukas thinks downtown's vibe has evolved since he left, turning into a good bar crawl scene, but food is still needed to fuel the night on the town.
Droukas knows he's in a bit of a difficult spot being right off of Old Main Street, adding "I'm used to being off the beaten path." He is confident customers will find their way around the corner to his restaurant. Part of that strategy is coming to them.
"I want to be friends with the bars," he said. "I want somebody to sit down at the bar and at 9:30 at night, call up and say I want a Cuban sandwich and black beans and rice delivered at the Lost Kangaroo."
Many familiar menu items will come to Havana Cabana, including cheese steaks, Cuban sandwiches and black beans and rice. The dinner items like ropa vieja won't come over because of the limited kitchen space.
"For the most part it'll be very similar," Droukas said comparing his cabanas. "Out there (on the beach) I got a full kitchen with hood systems, fryers and stove. Here I'm pretty much limited to steam tables, panini presses and convection ovens."
Droukas doesn't harbor any ill feelings about the eminent domain action that took him out of downtown in 2005. He said he's excited about the Hampton Inn hotel is expected to open in December at the former Pink Palace, and welcomes the changes downtown.
"Downtown has always been good to me and I like it because it's not as seasonal as the islands," Droukas said.
Around the time Lucky Dogs closed in April, two other Bradenton restaurants, Jennifer's Café and Retro City Café, also shuttered their doors. Gustafson is confident at least one of those two spaces will also have a new tenant soon.
"We knew that those spaces that were vacated 30 to 60 days ago were not going to be vacant for long," he said. "We're working on the other spaces as we speak."
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.