ST. PETE BEACH — At the new Guy Harvey RumFish Grill restaurant, patrons can observe dozens of native Gulf fish in an enormous aquarium during their meal, swim among them and also eat many of them for dinner.
Tarpon, grouper, a moray eel, even some miniature bonnet head sharks glide through the blue waters of the custom-made, 33,000-gallon fish tank, the centerpiece of a new resort dining room opening next month at the TradeWinds Guy Harvey Outpost resort at 6000 Gulf Blvd.
The walls are graced with canvasses bearing the likeness of the live animals, paintings with the distinctive eye for detail that has made artist Guy Harvey a household name among Florida anglers.
The TradeWinds gave local media a first look at the $6 million attraction Friday, hosting a meet-and-greet in the evening with Harvey and the hosts of the Animal Planet show “Tanked,” who were contracted to build the wall-length tank, one of a kind for area beaches.
An episode starring Wayde King, Brett Raymer and Heather King was shown Friday night and the resort is hosting an autograph signing with the TV personalities and Harvey from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.
TradeWinds President Keith Overton says the 160-seat restaurant will offer guests at the Guy Harvey Outpost a chance to see what’s beneath the serene Gulf of Mexico waters outside their balconies.
“They can come here and really see how they behave, what they eat, what their habitat looks like,” Overton said.
The general public also is welcome to dine here or shop for Guy Harvey T-shirts, original paintings and prints at the gift shop, which opens today.
The tank may be reason enough for a visit, one of the largest designed by the crew from “Tanked,” which travels the country building aquariums at big resorts.
This project took five months to complete and involved a series of fishing trips into the Gulf of Mexico.
The 200 fish representing 31 different species were almost all caught in the Tampa Bay area, and more than half were captured and safely transported by the “Tanked” crew and workers from the TradeWinds.
“If you went diving in the waters around here in Florida, these are the fish you would find,” King said.
After the RumFish Grill’s expected opening June 1, hotel guests may pay to snorkel in the tank.
Diners also can expect that the grouper fillets they order, though not from the tank, are guaranteed to be caught in local waters.
Taking the demand for authentic, locally-caught fare with extraordinary seriousness, many of the dishes will come with a detailed narrative to back up their claim to freshness.
“Each grouper will have a card with a matching number that goes to the table, to the customer. The customer can take their phone, put the QR code in there and it will pull up a picture of the boat it was caught on, the GPS coordinates of where it was caught, the date and time it was caught, and a history of the captain and the crew,” said Overton, adding responsible and humane fishing methods will also be documented.
The Gulf Wild seafood program, available at only a few Florida restaurants, puts a premium on the price of fillet, but Overton believes guests will be willing to pay for the real thing.
“Then you know it’s fresh fish,” he said.
The building of the 17,000-square-foot restaurant comes with the hiring of 85 new employees, more than 20 of them in the culinary department.
The new restaurant and gift shop are expected to generate $10 million in sales a year after becoming established in the market, Overton said.
While a chain of standalone Guy Harvey-themed restaurants elsewhere in the U.S. ended up going out of business, Overton says the combination of a 211-room hotel on premises, a unique aquarium attraction and a strong local tourism market should make this new venture a success.