Perhaps as much as Gordon Davis loves building hip restaurants, he loves taking them apart and turning them into something new.
The Tampa-based restaurateur, who already runs Ciro's Speakeasy, plus the super-popular Boca Kitchen Bar, and the Latin-themed Samba Room, is now taking apart Samba Room after just seven months in operation, and transforming it into a new seafood restaurant called CopperFish.
What's more, Davis is within reach of securing the contract to run a different property, the main restaurant at the former federal courthouse in downtown Tampa that's now under renovation into a chic Le Meridien hotel.
For Samba Room, this marks at least the third incarnation for the building that sits just a few blocks off Bayshore Boulevard on Howard Avenue in South Tampa. For years it was the Ceviche tapas-style restaurant, but Davis changed it to Samba Room when investors acquired the Ceviche brand from Davis and moved Ceviche to a new location.
Samba only just had its formal grand opening in August, but the concept wasn't going where Davis wanted, he said, and new investors in Davis' company are bringing in new ideas too. Just days ago, the doors closed and construction crews started working on the renovation.
“We're cladding the walls in some beautiful old brick, and we're making the space much more airy and older at the same time,” Davis said. “This will still be a sit-down restaurant, but also more casual, and with the farm-to-table approach that's done so well at Boca.”
That means lots of locally sourced ingredients, he said, because he sees the farm-to-table movement as much more than a short-lived fad. People want to know more about the food they eat, and they believe more in dishes with an ethos of authenticity.
The name “CopperFish” is something of a created brand identity, rather than an actual fish species, and several other seafood-themed restaurants across the country have a similar name.
The exact menu for the Tampa location is still in development, and Davis said one feature will be grilling fish with pecan wood to create a more distinct flavor. To lead the kitchen, he's recruited help from celebrated New York chef Richard Pims, who specializes in seafood and will become executive chef.
If all goes according to schedule, the new CopperFish may open to friends and family in the last week of April, with a general opening soon after.
At the former federal courthouse, Davis is more private with his plans. He has a deal with the developer, Gary Prosterman, but the final plans still must gain approval from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide that licensed Prosterman to renovate the 107-year-old Beaux Arts-style building into a Le Meridien boutique hotel.
If the Le Meridien project goes according to schedule, the hotel and restaurant could open in 2014.
In one regard, this puts Davis in direct competition with another culinary heavyweight, Bern's Steak House, which is part of a business group that's now in the construction phase of the ultrasophisticated Epicurean boutique hotel and restaurant just a few blocks away from the soon-to-be CopperFish. That hotel could open late this year.