New dining choices coming to Anna Maria Island
Ben Sato had long wanted to bring a restaurant to Pine Avenue on Anna Maria Island after training as a chef and honing his culinary skills in Key West and Miami.
The city of Anna Maria was his home. It was where he grew up and where his brother, Jason Sato, became one of Manatee County’s top selling real-estate agents.
But it took a lightning strike about a year ago to bring his dream into focus.
Lightning knocked out power at 415 Pine Ave., a large house owned by the Sato family.
“It fried all the power and cost us a crazy amount to fix,” Ben Sato said.
Why not, Sato asked, renovate the building and convert it into a barbecue restaurant, specializing in tropical flavors, such as from pineapples and mangos?
Recently, the 35-year-old Sato won a change in zoning from residential to dual use that would allow a restaurant downstairs and a residence upstairs. He is working through the permitting process with the city of Anna Maria.
“The vote was 3-1 and 50 people showed up in support of the zoning change,” Sato said.
Sato’s restaurant is one of three coming to Pine Avenue, a change that other merchants on the street welcome.
Emerson Quillin, owner of Emerson’s Studio/Store, 317C Pine Ave., said the street has been known as something of a “sleepy” area.
“I am all for more food. We’re excited to have more food options. It’s a great thing,” Quillin said.
Also planned for Pine Avenue is a 20-seat restaurant with a coffee bar going into a former preschool at 302 Pine Ave.
Owners Colleen and Scott Geller are renovating the preschool into a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. Workers were working on making over the building this week.
Also planned for Pine Avenue is the Turtle Shack restaurant at 314 Pine Ave.
Joe and Laurie Sabath operate a Chicago-style lunch counter take-out operation next to Lazy Turtle Beach Rentals. They plan to expand their lunch counter into a sit-down family-style restaurant, after selling their restaurant in Chicago.
Rebecca Preston, owner of the Shiny Fish Emporium gift shop at 306 Pine Ave., welcomed the news.
“Pine Avenue is where they want to be. It’s great that Anna Maria is getting some attention,” Preston said.
Sato is hopeful that he can open his restaurant, called gRub, by January 2020, which is when the Anna Maria City Pier should be completed or nearing completion.
The unusual spelling of the restaurant’s name emphasizes the spices and herbs rubbed on meat to flavor it before being barbecued.
The pier was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The popular destination for locals and visitors is being rebuilt at a cost of $4.5 million.
Sato envisions gRub as a self-service restaurant, where customers walk up to the service counter, order their meal and then pick up their tray and take their food to their table.
“There will be no servers and it will be very family-oriented,” he said. “Everyone loves Anna Maria, the beaches and the southern hospitality. The weather is perfect here.”
Katie O’Connor, a bookkeeper and booking agent at Sato Real Estate & Vacation Rentals, said she is eager to see gRub open.
“Ben makes great food. I am happy to have another place on the island to eat,” she said.