ANNA MARIA -- After working on renovations for nearly seven months, the BeachHouse Restaurant proudly unveiled a new dining room and bar to the public this week.
On Thursday, customers at the 20-year-old restaurant in Bradenton Beach were able to see firsthand the fruits of months-long labor.
In addition to the new dining room and bar, the facility boasts brand new bathrooms, a new retail area and a state-of-the-art kitchen, which opened a few weeks ago. A wine wall stretches the entire length of the restaurant's south end.
At the restaurant's retail area, hooded sweatshirts with the BeacHhouse Restaurant's logo hung from tidy racks. One men's t-shirt read "Keep Calm and Swim Fast," while a hot pink shirt for women nearby encouraged customers to "Keep Calm and Drink Wine." A cluster of plush manatees filled a wicker basket on the floor.
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To the left, Reena Khadre stood behind a small register. The 20-year-old retail associate sounded relieved to work indoors again after spending months pushing racks of clothes in and out of storage every day during the renovation.
"I think it's gorgeous," Khadre said of the new space. "After working in the heat and in the cold and in the rain for 6 to 7 months, I'm so grateful. I don't think anyone here has ever done this where they keep a restaurant open without actually having the restaurant."
The owner, Ed Chiles, has. The head of the Chiles Restaurant Group did the same with his Sandbar Restaurant, also located on Anna Maria Island.
"The alternative was to shut down for a year and that was not an option for our staff, or for our guests - or for us frankly," Chiles said of the BeachHouse. "So we had to do it the hard way."
It took hard work to carve out this new facility, he said.
"You're working with state agencies and local governments and contracts and designers," Chiles said. "It's very satisfying to see it all come together and work."
The Sandbar was renovated in two phases over a two-year period. Chiles described that project and the BeachHouse Restaurant's renovation as "similar."
"This is the first and the major phase - a whole kitchen, totally redoing that," he said, in reference to the BeachHouse. Chiles said there are some things he and his team are trying to work out with the city, but that he looks forward to a second phase of renovation for the popular eatery. This phase, which Chiles hopes will take place in the fall, will focus on redoing the deck and outside.
"We used the same contractor," Chiles said. "We knew we had a really good team then and where we had certain people who were sub-contractors that didn't work out, we obviously didn't use them again."
Nearby at the bar, Dave Henderson sat and enjoyed a piña colada with Bacardi rum. The disabled Navy veteran said he rides the county buses from his Palmetto home just to come eat at the BeachHouse.
"The personnel who work here are all very helpful," the 79-year-old said. "And a person in a wheelchair appreciates that kind of service."
The self-described bachelor also added that "between the beach and the beauty of the help in here, I'd come forever."
Outside the restaurant, customers ate under bright red Budweiser umbrellas - some ate sitting on wooden panels, and others could dig their toes into the sandy beach. Bottles of coarse sea salt and whole black peppercorns topped each round table. The newly nourished beach could be seen beyond.
While the restaurant was being renovated, its kitchen staff worked in portable trailer kitchens that were much smaller than their new state-of-the-art kitchen.
Banquet chef Kevin Byrne, 24, described that time as "hectic."
"I think we worked a little better together," the 24-year-old added. "We're better at working in more confined spaces."
Now that the cook staff is working from a brand new kitchen, BeachHouse Restaurant chef and kitchen manager Will Manson shared plans to incorporate more local and sustainable products in the establishment's menu. A few items that are set to be added are Pompano and an heirloom tomato salad.
Michael Shannon, who serves as manager for the restaurant, summed up the restaurant's interior uplift (and everything that comes with it) in a short and sweet fashion.
"I've worked here a long time, and I've watched them do it, and it's still unrecognizable," he said.