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Cheeky’s to bring ‘old Florida vibes’ to Grand Central

Mark Parker

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An artist's rendering of Cheeky's, a raw bar and seafood grill that will also specialize in classic fried chicken. The restaurant will open in St. Petersburg's Grand Central District next year. Image provided.

A Tampa-based restaurateur with a fondness for St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District plans to elevate the eclectic neighborhood’s charm with his latest concept.

Nate Siegel, co-founder of Tampa’s award-winning Willa’s and Willa’s Provisions, will open another neighborhood restaurant and bar across the bay in mid-2024. The concept, Cheeky’s, draws inspiration from New England oyster bars and Southern chicken shacks.

Cheeky’s will occupy about 2,000 square feet in the former China Finders space at 2823 Central Avenue. Siegel stressed the importance of becoming a community asset people visit multiple times weekly.

“It’s (Cheeky’s) going to have really charming, old Florida vibes,” Siegel told the Catalyst. “It will kind of feel like an old Southern porch.”

Southern Living named Willa’s one of the “The South’s Best New Restaurants of 2023.” Siegel said Cheeky’s would expand upon its casual environment.

He believes the laid-back ambiance and fresh fish will become Cheeky’s trademark. Siegel grew up in the area and said he would call upon several childhood friends who are now commercial fishermen.

In addition to “as local as we can” catch-of-the-day specials, the menu will feature oysters, peel-and-eat shrimp, salads, burgers and classic fried chicken. “Seafood can be polarizing for some people, even in Tampa and St. Pete, and we want to have something for everybody,” Siegel said.

The family and dog-friendly facility will feature multiple seating options. Those include a 20-person bar, intimate dining spaces and an expansive outdoor patio along the sidewalk.

Siegel believes the latter will serve as a prime people-watching spot in Grand Central. “You never know who is going to walk by,” he added.

Siegel speaks from experience. He and his wife typically spend their free time in the area, often visiting friends who own local establishments.

St. Petersburg’s “totally different energy” was another draw, and Siegel credited the surrounding community for supporting small businesses. China Finders, an antique dinnerware shop, enjoyed a 30-year run at the location before closing in July.

“The Grand Central District is super charming and low-key with great restaurants,” Siegel said. “The restaurants are smaller and sweeter … and that’s really what I do best.”

Nathan Siegel, cofounder of Willa’s and Willa’s Provisions. Photo: Darby Musha Photography.

Siegel attributed Willa’s popularity to its quality, affordable everyday dining options and community focus. He plans to apply the same formula in St. Petersburg.

Cheeky’s will offer daily lunch, dinner and happy hour services, and brunch on the weekend. Bartenders will serve frozen, classic and non-alcoholic cocktails, and customers can order from a “tight list of approachable” wines or local beers.

Siegel said a neighborhood amenity must provide a welcoming atmosphere to all demographics at any time of day. He said Cheeky’s, like Willa’s, would donate space to local organizations and host community cleanups.

“When we’re looking our best, the whole neighborhood shines, and that’s what we’ll do here as well,” Siegel added.

He also stressed the importance of fostering a “fantastic” work environment. Siegel said employees would receive health insurance and paid time off, atypical benefits in the hospitality industry.

Siegel spent time in New York working for the prominent Keith McNally Restaurant Group. A New York Times article called McNally “the restaurateur who invented downtown.”

Siegel also served as vice president of operations at Tampa’s Mise En Place, a Michelin Guide-recommended fine dining establishment. However, he eagerly anticipates opening a decidedly more “easygoing” restaurant next summer.

“If you’ve been to Ted Peter’s (Famous Smoked Fish) or The Wharf (Restaurant) on Pass-a-Grille, that’s kind of the direction we’re going,” Siegel said. “We love those places.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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