Anna Maria Island's Lobstahs plans new St. Armands restaurant

Holmes Beach sister operation in Sarasota to seat 300 and offer rooftop bar

cschelle@bradenton.comMay 7, 2014 

HOLMES BEACH -- Anna Maria Island's Lobstahs hopes that its new planned restaurant called Bait will be hook, line and sinker for St. Armands' diners.

"It's going to be a seafood-centric menu really focusing on locally sourced items whenever possible, bold flavors, simple presentations and be a little more trendy," said executive chef and general manager Patrick O'Connor.

The new restaurant will feature a logo with letters strung on a fishing line-shaped sign with a hook on the end, hanging off the side of the building. The restaurant had a working title of Groupahs, but they decided to go for something a little less obvious.

"Bait just works for us," O'Connor said. "You could play it on words, too, that we're baiting people to come in."

Bait will be built upon the success of Lobstahs, 5337 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, which celebrated two years in March. The Holmes Beach seafood and party spot is coming off a strong season, thanks to record tourism.

"We're up pretty significantly -- 20 to 30 percent up across the board," said O'Connor, who received his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University.

The site, at 29 N. Boulevard of the Presidents, was formerly the Tokyo Steakhouse restaurant. Bait will look considerably different compared to the existing space and compared to Lobstahs, seating about 300 people.

"The restaurant will be much different than this one, in that it will be considerably larger -- a three-floor restaurant featuring a rooftop bar," O'Connor said. The rooftop bar will offer views of the sunset and high-end sports cars navigating the circle, with plenty of places to lounge.

Owner Jeff Levey was more elusive about what will be going inside the new restaurant, saying he was unclear what the concept will be in the end and that the plans have all changed and will change again.

He said St. Armands is a "good area with a lot of traffic," but declined to say much more than that.

A company under Levey's brother, Mark Levey, bought the 5,950-square-foot restaurant for $2.7 million in January. The brothers registered the restaurant's business name, Bait Restaurant LLC, in April, according to the Florida Division of Corporations.

Permits have not yet been approved for demolition and renovation, according to Sarasota city records, but O'Connor expects demolition to start this week. The restaurant's plans will be administratively approved when submitted for permitting.

Hiring has begun for some key roles now, O'Connor said, and they plan to have 60 to 70 employees on hand.

St. Armands is an attractive spot for a second restaurant thanks to its strong retail component, and it doesn't have as much of a tourism seasonal swing as Anna Maria Island experiences, O'Connor said.

"Those markets are somewhat seasonal, too, but not as seasonal as the island," he said.

A second restaurant has been in the works since October, and O'Connor hopes to be open this October.

Other features in the works include a brick over, an open kitchen with a dining exhibition area, a raw bar on the first floor, a chef's table for semi-private dining, plus balcony and outdoor dining, he said. Each floor will have a different vibe and feel.

"We are basically gutting the existing structure and rebuilding from scratch," O'Connor said.

The exterior is planned to have a brick treatment with awnings, larger glass windows and a design for people to see the activity in the restaurant from the street, he added.

The food will feature less cream and less butter than the items at Lobstahs, he added, planning for casual fine dining.

"What has been the key to our success has really been consistent execution in both product and service," O'Connor said.

The native New Yorker settled in Sarasota, tired of traveling, where he served as corporate chef, helped open food and beverage for stadiums and served as corporate director of food and beverage for Planet Hollywood. The new restaurant project is rejuvenating, he said.

"Oh yeah, I'm digging this," he said.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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