Longbeach Café to heat up Whitney Beach Plaza

acastillo@bradenton.comApril 2, 2014 

LONGBOAT KEY -- Not much was going on Tuesday afternoon at the Whitney Beach Plaza. The shopping center in Longboat Key was quiet -- and still largely vacant.

That will change when Longbeach Cafe opens Wednesday. The restaurant, owned by Jeffrey Daly, Pete Collandra and his wife, Colleen, is at 6836 Gulf of Mexico Drive.

The space it sits on used to be the site of Isabelle's Eatery -- familiar territory for all three co-owners.

Daly, who lives part of the year in Longboat Key, used to eat at Isabelle's with his family. Colleen worked there as a manager and chef. She also waited tables at the restaurant. That's how she met Pete.

"It's like going back home because I worked here for so many years," Colleen Collandra said Wednesday afternoon as she sat at a booth inside the renovated space. "I know it like the back of my hand. I know where I want all my equipment to go. I knew exactly what worked."

Final preparations were being taken care of Wednesday. Marlene Zobel, Colleen's sister who also worked at Isabelle's Eatery and is now a manager at Longbeach Café, also helped.

Stacks of opal-colored plates sit on a long shelf in the kitchen beside a cluster of upside-down glasses with darkened stems and herbs and seasonings nearby.

Pete Collandra stood by the kitchen's long counter, head bent while working on a small wire shelf for open breads.

The 53-year-old works full-time for the city fire department, but revamping Longbeach Café's interior was his other gig the past two months. Aside from the restaurant ceiling, air conditioning and roof, Pete Collandra single-handedly fixed everything else on his days off. He also spruced up the booths and stool chairs, which were given to his wife by a friend.

"I had to repaint them because they were rusted," he said. "They were beat."

The co-owners also reupholstered the booths to match the pale restaurant walls.

The idea behind Longbeach Café began at a lunch between Daly, Colleen Collandra and her sister, and Daly's father, who has a place in Longboat Key.

"We all agreed that this was something that we had to do -- we had no choice," Daly said.

Daly said they're going to bring Whitney Beach Plaza "back to life."

Ryan Snyder, who co-owns the plaza, said he hopes Longbeach Café will bring more foot traffic to the shopping center.

"There's been a tremendous amount of interest in the plaza, but a lot of folks have been hesitant to pull the trigger, because for years previous owners have been promising to get the plaza turned around," he said.

Inside the restaurant entrance to the left are a stack of menus -- long papers with thick, plastic covers. Colleen Collandra created the menus, which lists breakfast choices "For The Healthy You" and items "From the Griddle," which includes buttermilk pancakes and cinnamon swirl French toast.

Colleen Collandra stressed she wanted everything in the café to be fresh, homemade and "not extremely outrageous in price."

"I've been in the business since I was 16 years old," the 51-year-old said bluntly. "I know what usually flies and what doesn't."

On the menu, "Colleen's Favorite" order is a French omelet made of mushrooms, scallions, onions, Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard, with a special blend of seasoning. Customers will have their choice of home fries, grits or toast.

Because Colleen Collandra is so well-known in Longboat Key, locals kept stopping by to request certain items be included in the menu. She complied.

"It makes me feel fantastic. It really does. It truly is very much a family thing," she said, adding that even her father worked as a part-time dishwasher at Isabelle's Eatery.

"It was very family oriented back then," she said, "and it still is right now."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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