HOLMES BEACH -- Grouper may not be the prettiest of fish, but Bev Lesnick thinks it's the tastiest. The gaping Gulf Coast fish inspired a new name for one of the outdoor bars in Holmes Beach.
Fresh-caught grouper, brought daily from Cortez's AP Bell Fish Co., is a mainstay on the menu at the Ugly Grouper, formerly the Barefoot Tiki Bar & Café. The bar reopened last week under new management and serves lunch and dinner seven days a week, including ribs and wings smoked in the bar's backyard. Bev Lesnick, general manager of the Ugly Grouper, owns and operates the Island Coffee Haus.
Michael Ross, under the business The Marina Drive LLC, purchased the 2,600-square-foot outdoor bar at 5704 Marina Drive in August for $800,000 from Nicole Heslop, according to Manatee County records. Heslop bought the property in March 2002 for $560,000 and, after a couple of landscaping businesses tried to succeed on the property, the Barefoot Tiki Bar and Café opened. Neither Ross nor Heslop could be reached for comment Monday.
Lesnick said Ross approached her about managing the Ugly Grouper a few months ago. She doesn't plan to close her beloved coffee shop and is excited for the experience the Ugly Grouper will add to her resume.
Lesnick vacationed on the island beginning in 2000 and, when the opportunity came to open a coffee shop in Holmes Beach, Lesnick left her hotel job in Tampa to start the new venture. She hasn't looked back since.
"I do have to pinch myself every day," Lesnick said. "I have everything I wanted. I have a coffee shop, I live on the water and I have great friends."
Several renovations are planned for the Ugly Grouper, including an overhaul of the main outdoor bar and new restrooms. Lesnick said there's a possibility of expanding the main building so it's large enough for indoor seating, but plans and permits are still awaiting approval by Holmes Beach.
The bar has already added an ATM machine and a jukebox and Ugly Grouper's bar and restaurant manager Thad Treadwell, who recently moved from Michigan, said more TVs are on the way to accommodate sports fans. On big game nights, the Ugly Grouper plans to offer beer and wing specials in addition to other drink deals when the bar's liquor license is approved. Live music, wine tasting and karaoke are other plans in the works.
The recent change of management enticed Cortez resident Brady Milko and Bradenton resident Brenda Naylor to give the Ugly Grouper a try on Monday. Milko's friends sent her there to try the food and scope it out for a possible wedding reception. Naylor and Milko approved of the new menu.
"The fish tacos are amazing," Naylor said. The tacos are made with fresh grouper from AP Bell, Lesnick said.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the outdoor bar and relaxed atmosphere offered by places like the Ugly Grouper bring back memories of what the island was like when she was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.
"It's returning to the roots of the island," Whitmore said. "Even though new people may not agree, but I actually lived there. I think it's a nice, friendly, welcoming form of business."
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.