The long-anticipated addition of a Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill to the Manatee County restaurant scene got a little more real Wednesday with a ground breaking along the north shore of the Manatee River.
The planned restaurant, aiming for a projected opening in January 2020, would be located at 5313 19th St. E., on a former home site south of U.S. 301 and west of Interstate 75. A Johnny Leverock’s Seafood House once stood next door.
Although the groundbreaking ceremony was Wednesday, construction crews have a big head start on the project and walls are going up.
The new restaurant would create 120 jobs, according to Specialty Restaurants Corporation of Anaheim, Calif., which plans to open 20 Whiskey Joe’s in Florida over the next five years.
“We’re thrilled to join the Ellenton community and bring the vacation vibes, tropical drinks and delicious food of Whiskey Joe’s to such a unique waterfront destination,” Whiskey Joe’s brand manager Marty Duffany said. “Our September groundbreaking on the Manatee River will be a huge step forward in the brand’s continued expansion throughout Florida.”
The Ellenton Whiskey Joe’s would be the fourth in Florida, joining those in Miami, Tampa and Port Richey. The company also owns and operates the Rusty Pelican in Miami and Tampa.
The Ellenton Whiskey Joe’s, a planned 12,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor venue, would be accessible by auto and boat, and would feature beach access, boat pull-ups, fire pits and palapas, also known as thatched huts.
Whiskey Joe’s Barefoot Tiki Bar specializes in tiki-inspired cocktails and offers mojitos, margaritas and an extensive selection of local beers on tap.
The “Floribbean”-inspired menu will offer Whiskey Joe’s signature tropical fare, including Island Crab Cakes, Mango-Glazed Scallops, Gator Bites and a raw oyster bar. In addition, a full schedule of fun and experiential programming will be available, including weekday happy hour and live entertainment.
The new restaurant could also accommodate private gatherings, from corporate meetings to wedding receptions.
Specialty Restaurants filed a request for rezone and general development plan with Manatee County government in 2017 with the expectation that the Ellenton restaurant could open in 2018 or 2019. The Manatee County Commission approved Specialty’s plans in August 2018.
The Whiskey Joe’s project was affected by the Florida Department of Transportation’s plan to replace the existing Interstate 75-U.S 301 interchange with a constricted diamond configuration. The total cost of the FDOT project is estimated at $190 million.
A portion of the Whiskey Joe’s 19th Street East frontage is scheduled to become a cul de sac when an on-ramp to southbound I-75 is constructed from U.S. 301.
“It’s a project worth waiting for,” Parrish resident Toni Muirhead said. “In Parrish we don’t have a nice sit-down restaurant on the waterfront where we can bring family and friends.”
Gary Guerin, who lives down the street from the Whiskey Joe’s site, would prefer that the restaurant was located elsewhere, expressing concern about noise and traffic.
“It’s a detriment to the neighborhood,” he said.
Guerin’s wife, Dolenaa, said that representatives of Specialty Restaurants were gracious, however, in meeting with them and answering their questions.
During a Manatee County Planning Commission in 2018, attorney Caleb Grimes said the developer had met with five of the neighboring residents to reassure them that Whiskey Joe’s will be a good neighbor.
“We are a family restaurant. It is a high-end restaurant with 70 percent food sales and 30 percent alcohol sales,” Grimes said in 2018.
Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace took part in Wednesday’s ceremonial groundbreaking.
“We need more restaurants, more things happening in my district,” Trace told president and CEO John Tallichet. “We want you to come back in January.”
For his part, Tallichet said Whiskey Joe’s, as a gathering place, intends to “be part of the community and help where we can,” referring to the company’s philanthropy in other locations.
The family-owned Specialty Restaurants Corporation was founded in 1958 by World War II veteran and bomber pilot David Tallichet. The company’s 19 properties across California, Florida, New York and Ohio are known for their panoramic views of city skylines, waterfronts and airports.
For more information visit whiskeyjoesmanatee.com.