When Locale Market opened in Sundial St. Pete in Dec. 2014, it was the most-hyped, most-anticipated gourmet market/food hall/culinary playground Tampa Bay had ever seen. Since then, celebrity chef-owner Michael Mina has done what every entrepreneur does in the face of challenges: tinker.
It's happening again. On Thursday FarmTable Kitchen, the second-floor restaurant, will be rebranded as FarmTable Cucina, a full-service 100-percent Italian restaurant.
"The original intent was always to have a restaurant upstairs and a market downstairs, and then things started to blur," said Mina by phone from San Francisco. "We want it to be its own entity so it can compete effectively with other local restaurants. Here we've had employees walking through the restaurant with sheet pans on the way to the market."
At core, the fast-talking chef who manages more than 30 concepts worldwide said he wasn't happy with the flow of mixed restaurant and market. The market has now been entirely relocated to the first floor.
"One foot in the water doesn't work," he said. "You've got to be all in."
Locale Market's downstairs has been in a constant state of self-reinvention and refinement since opening. At the beginning, it was equal parts raw ingredients and prepared foods. As things have evolved, prepared foods have expanded, basic groceries have contracted, and super-sybaritic foods like liquid-nitrogen ice cream sundaes have given way to acai bowls and, as Mina describes it, "health and wellness foods."
"Sundial Saturday Yoga brought requests," Mina explained, admitting that, like every restaurateur in the country, he's trying to figure out how to capture the adoration, and dollars, of millennials. So, is St. Petersburg a tricky market?
"No, but in a market like this, getting the volume is hard. You have to create relationships and that takes time," Mina said, adding that high-season/low-season fluctuations have been less dramatic year over year as snowbirds make up a smaller percentage of St. Petersburg's demographics.
Chef Jeffrey Hileman, who continues to be Locale's executive chef, is at the helm of this most recent shift, focusing on fresh, housemade, Italian pastas, pizzas and breads, influenced by seasonal, regionally-sourced and carefully curated ingredients. The decor will change to reflect the new mission, with enhanced patio dining to seat an additional 56 people with Italian countryside-inspired landscaping, as well as a private back patio, bringing the total seating up to 224.
FarmTable Kitchen began as a small-plate beer-and-wine-only bar, no reservations, then added a ticketed prix-fixe multi-course tasting menu dining room. St. Petersburg residents pushed back — they wanted a full menu, reservations, a full bar. Mina and partner Don Pintabona obliged.
This newest concept change, Mina said, gives the kitchen the ability to focus on technique and a single cuisine.
"It's really a restaurant now, and we can elevate the food."
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.