BRADENTON -- Shorts-clad diners enjoying a continuous cool breeze at their outdoor table. The Palmetto Bridge set against a sunset silhouette.
Crowds parking their cars in downtown Bradenton before a leisurely stroll along the soon-to-be Riverwalk. And jet skis, kayaks and boats bringing revelers to a stretch of beach that includes a sand volleyball court and authentic tiki hut.
These are the visions Rich Kaiser has for his new Tarpon Pointe Grill & Tiki Bar, set to open June 27 at the Manatee Landing Marina. Kaiser, who has 30 years’ experience running restaurants and nightclubs, aspires to make this 150-seat casual outdoor restaurant a key part of Bradenton’s awakening as a vibrant downtown.
“We have a long-term vision here,” says Kaiser. “And that is the development of the Riverwalk and revitalizing downtown. Activity begets activity; that’s what downtown needs.”
Kaiser also aims for the Tarpon Pointe bar and grill to become a regional draw. He’s hired Richard “Turk” Badolato, a 40-year veteran of entertainment establishments in Key West, Key Largo and the Bahamas to help make his dream come true.
“I think this is going to be great for the area,” says Badolato, who will be Tarpon Point’s general manager. “I think this is going to be a hit.”
Kaiser says his new grill and bar is perfectly positioned to support the city of Bradenton’s $5.5 million investment in the Riverwalk, which is a 1.5-mile walkway and green space dotted with entertainment attractions like an interactive water fountain, sand volleyball courts, improved amphitheater, covered leisure stations and public art.
The Tarpon Point grill sits at the eastern end of Riverwalk and will provide a view of most of the winding walkway that is planned.
The one-acre Tarpon Pointe complex will feature a 3,000-square foot deck beneath a tiki hut hand-built by Seminole Indians, an observation deck atop the restaurant, a drinking table that lines the railing, picnic tables, sand volleyball court, private party area, almost 150 parking spaces, a small docking area for jet-skis and kayaks, and four 120-foot docks to welcome visitors by boat.
One other aspect of the Tarpon Pointe Grill makes it unique among eateries near downtown: It will be open until midnight on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on weekends. Several downtown businesses have called for more late-night eating establishments to complement the area’s numerous bars.
Kaiser and his wife, Ellie, have opened 65 restaurants throughout their career, including locally notable spots such as Gecko’s in Sarasota; Outer Limits, Club Heart and Rockefeller’s from the 1990s; Thirdy-Something, known as the area’s first-ever pub and grill; and Bermuda Breeze.
The couple also runs Scores Tap Room and Grill; has owned Dunkin’ Donuts, Checker’s and Beef O’Brady’s franchises; and operated numerous restaurants in New York City and South Carolina.
“It’s always been our dream to have the opportunity to develop a waterfront restaurant,” Kaiser says. “But what makes this unique as opposed to everything else I’ve done is the opportunity to involve the landscape and climate into the restaurant. We’re able to have the outdoors participate in the buildout of the restaurant.”
Kaiser also says he’s not concerned about the foreclosure suit hanging over the Manatee Landings Marina. Owner Scott Tibbetts said Friday he’s working to restructure his $6.7 million debt with BB&T with another lending institution.
Christine Hawes, Bradenton Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.