Five St. Petersburg restaurateurs have joined forces, pooling their time, talents and other resources into a new waterfront dining venture. Next month, the Big Catch at Salt Creek will open at the southeast St. Pete site of the recently-closed Fish Tales Seafood House.
The organization is called Boys in the Burg, LLC, and while the five principals are hardly boys they are, to the man, lifetime residents of the Burg. Collectively, they’ve been feeding St. Pete for well over half a century.
After five years of legal squabbling, Harborage Marina won the right to evict Fish Tales late last summer, after nearly two decades at the 1500 2nd Street South location.
Enter Mario Farias, a global business consultant and a partner in the Pipo’s and Callaloo restaurants, with a long history of entrepreneurship in his hometown. When the Harborage Group asked him if he knew anyone with an interest in renovating and running the space, with its unparalleled views of boats coming in and out of Salt Creek, Farias thought he just might.
His first visit was to Larry Munch, whose 4th Street family diner has been in business for 66 years. Here’s an opportunity, he said to his old pal, what do you think? Immediately, Munch was in.
“I’d always looked at the place and thought what a great opportunity it would be,” the longtime owner of Munch’s Diner explains. “Although I never went there.
“I’m cutting back on my hours – I’m sorta trying to retire – but when Mario came in that day and told me about it, I went ‘Wow.’”
Next stop was developer Jon LaBudde, who’d owned and operated numerous restaurants, and other businesses, for decades. LaBudde, too, was quick to sign on.
They were the three Musketeers for a while, until they remembered they weren’t exactly spring chickens. They went in search of younger blood to come in as operating partners.
Enter Pete Boland and Ian Taylor, longtime friends and business partners whose most recent (two years and counting) project is The Galley.
“Mario texted me at 1:30 in the morning; he knows I’m always up,” Boland laughs. “We’ve actually been offered a couple projects in recent months, and they just weren’t a good fit. And we were really busy at the time with some other stuff.”
Boland’s Midwestern relatives visit several times a year, and Fish Tales was always one of their favorites. “There’s a really short list of places I always wanted to be a part of; a place where I felt they were not reaching their potential. This space was always on my list.”
Taylor, whose specialty is the build-out, the physical work of tearing down and creating a new facility, has already removed the Fish Tales bar – inexplicably, it blocked the money-shot view of the water – and has begun building an entirely new one on the other side of the outdoor dining area.
“Fish Tales had some good points, but it left a lot to be desired,” explains Farias. “We envision a place that’s sort of flip-flop fabulous. You can come here dressed whatever way you want. We believe that this doesn’t belong to any age group. Anybody is welcome here, and they know they’re going to get good food, fair prices, great drinks, entertainment and whatever else comes along with it.”
Between 1989 and 2001, LaBudde had a nightclub on Beach Drive called the Big Catch. It was one of the few successful downtown businesses in its early years – the renaissance and renewed interest in the area was still to come – and many people, the Boys in the Burg figured, retain fond memories of the original Big Catch.
Naming the new place was a committee project.
“Pete and Ian had some good names,” says LaBudde, “but I think Mario hit it out of the park when he said the Big Catch has some name recognition. Not so much with the 20-year-olds, and not so much with some of the 30-year-olds, but what it brings to the table is that a lot of our core groups, the 30-40-50s, know about it.”
When the new moniker was announced through social media, he adds, “You can’t believe the response we got on Facebook. Hundreds and hundreds of people.”
Adds Farias: “People that were too young then are excited to come back and live part of that history.”
Boland and Munch are creating the menu. “We see this as a place where friends and family gather, so it’s going to be a lot of share-ables,” Boland explains. “Being on the water, we’re definitely going to have a strong seafood influence. And classic Americana – really approachable stuff that everybody can identify with.”
Imminent is a brand-new, fully modern kitchen; the five also plan to renovate and open up the long-dormant dining room. They’re considering what color scheme to use, and the new logo is expected to be unveiled shortly. Harborage is installing new and additional dockage to allow greater restaurant access for boating customers.
“It would be more difficult if any one of us tried to do this by ourselves,” Boland observes. “It definitely helps to have this team aspect. We feel comfortable enough to know that we’re going to put together a great team.
“These guys are definitely going to help us with some of their sage advice, and their experience, and some of the things that we don’t know. And we’re going to bring a lot of energy into the place. I see Ian and I being more day-to-day operations. We feel pretty comfortable about where we’re going. We have a common vision.”
The Salt Creek site was such a hot property, says Farias, the phones started ringing off the hook as soon as Harborage Marina announced its availability.
“But what they really wanted,” he adds, “was for it to go to local owners. I don’t think there’s a group in St. Petersburg that’s more local than the five of us.”