TAMPA — Now that the Epicurean Hotel is open and the Elevage restaurant, Edge Social Drinkery and Chocolate Pi patisserie are serving customers, the owner of Bern’s Steak House announced Monday that sister restaurant SideBern’s will get a major makeover.
David Laxer said the changes at the 18-year-old South Howard Avenue restaurant were long planned following Bern’s Fine Wine & Spirits’ relocation south to the Epicurean from SideBern’s. With all the bottles moved and the space empty, renovating the modern fusion restaurant is now possible.
SideBern’s will close on June 24 so that construction can begin at the award-winning 150-seat restaurant, Laxer said. No reopening date has been set, but it is expected service will restart near the end of the year.
For the past five years, the restaurant has closed for 10 days each summer for maintenance and decor improvements. Laxer said this year’s renovation plans are too extensive to complete in such a short amount of time.
“It’s a bigger endeavor than tearing up some floor, putting paint on the walls and moving furniture around,” Laxer said. “We just can’t continue to have that dead space in the former wine store. Now it’s about figuring out the nuts and bolts of what to do.”
In 2012, Bern’s joined with Mainsail Lodging & Development and Marriott to build the food-themed Epicurean Hotel across from the steak house on South Howard Avenue.
The land for the hotel, as well as the parking garage behind the resort, was provided by Laxer. Mainsail built the hotel and oversees its operations. Marriott provides the reservations and booking system.
Staff from Bern’s and SideBern’s operate the Elevage restaurant, Chocolate Pi bakery and the Edge rooftop bar, as well as in-room and spa food and beverage hospitality. The restaurant also provides food for catering events in the ballroom as well as private functions inside the Epicurean’s Culinary Theater.
“It takes time to do something right and we want to do it right,” Bern’s spokeswoman Brooke Palmer said of the renovation. “We want to bring SideBern’s to the level of the hotel and Elevage.”
In 1996, SideBern’s started as three separate buildings, including the wine shop, the restaurant and a warehouse. As the restaurant grew from a dessert and wine space into a full-fledged restaurant under former chef Jeannie Pierola, the land between the wine shop and dining room was enclosed as The Brick Room to accommodate large groups and functions.
In 2000, a renovation attached the warehouse to the dining room so that the kitchen could expand.
Laxer declined to reveal all of the renovation details and did not discuss the project’s cost, but said the look of the bar, a longtime South Tampa happy hour hot spot, would be refreshed. He said the restaurant would keep the same number of seats, but the logo will be reworked, and that Chad Johnson, who oversees food operations at SideBern’s and the Epicurean, might rework the SideBern’s menu.
“We’ve been very conscious all along that Elevage and Bern’s and SideBern’s offer very distinct dining experiences,” Laxer said.
He did say that the former wine shop space, which sits parallel to Howard Avenue, might incorporate more outdoor seating in addition to the patio along Morrison Avenue.
“We want to take advantage of the amazing pedestrian energy that exists now on Howard Avenue,” Laxer said. “Right now, we don’t have that. We want to get some of that Howard Avenue focus.”
During the hiatus, managers and many of the staff will shift to working at the steak house and in the hotel’s restaurant operations. Others losing their positions have been offered severance with the chance of returning to the staff after SideBern’s reopens, he said.
Laxer’s wife, Christina, who worked on the 1996 opening, will assist with this year’s renovation as well.
“It is going to be something that you’ll say, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t have expected this at SideBern’s,’” Laxer said.