The Historic Manhattan Casino in south St. Petersburg will transform into a 24/7 community hub for food, music, art and culture under a plan that will be presented to the St. Petersburg City Council this week.
A food hall with several restaurant concepts would replace Callaloo, a table-waited restaurant serving southern cuisine. Rising Tide Innovation Center would open a small business center and coworking space and the upstairs performance space would host business events, said Mario Farias, partner and director of development for Callaloo Group LLC.
“Food halls end up being the smart thing to do now, especially in the economy we are in. If you can get four or five or six different ventures inside one venue, you reduce overhead, you reduce the risk factor for young restaurants and even for those priced out of the market,” Farias said.
All the restaurants will share a culinary kitchen, with Callaloo Group providing hosts, wait staff, bussers, dishwashers and kitchen management.
“We’re taking on all that expense so all [the restaurant operators] have to focus on is developing their cooking skills, and along the way through our classes and training, they’ll learn other skills. So when they are ready to go out on their own and go to their brick and mortar, they’ll be a well-prepared team,” Farias said.
Creating new businesses
The city of St. Petersburg owns The Historic Manhattan Casino at 642 22nd St. S., in the heart of The Deuces, traditionally a hub for Black businesses, homes and entertainment.
The city awarded a five-year lease to Callaloo Group in 2017 to operate a restaurant, event space and performing music venue. Pipo’s, a St. Petersburg restaurant group that operated Pipo’s To Go at The Historic Manhattan Casino, no longer will guarantee the lease. Instead, Callaloo Group, which includes former NFL star Vincent Jackson, will guarantee the lease, under the proposed amendment the City Council will consider this week.
Other terms remain the same. In return for $40,000 a year in base rent payment, Callaloo Group has agreed to hire residents of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area and train them to become potential restaurant owners.
“The mindset we were looking at from the beginning was to create new businesses, to create entrepreneurs to help people within our community who sometimes get looked over because of lack of resources. We were going to use the Pipo’s model to do that and things just weren’t working. So we decided to look elsewhere,” Farias said.
Farias tapped the expertise of Leigh Fletcher and Tina Fischer, attorneys and co-owners of Rising Tide Innovation Center, a coworking center in downtown St. Petersburg that is home to Farias Consulting. They focused on La Cocina, a food hall in San Francisco that is a model for minority women to launch restaurants and create businesses. In 12 years, La Cocina has launched nearly 400 restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area.
That model proved important in revamping plans for The Historic Manhattan Casino.
In place of Pipo’s To Go, there will be a coffee shop with its own brand of Deuces coffee, and baked goods from local bakers. An adjacent shop will serve breakfast and lunch sandwiches.
The first restaurant in the food hall will be a barbecue restaurant operated by the William Gravely family, a local family that’s done small catering jobs for years.
Farias hopes the coffee shop and barbecue restaurant can open by the end of September.
There are about nine applications for other restaurants operating in the food hall, Farias said. An advisory group is helping select the restaurants, with an eye towards vegan choices, as well as those that are respectful of the history of the building and the community.
Callaloo’s food offerings won’t disappear. Tapas and appetizers that have proved popular will stay on as bar bites.
A central feature will be a lunch counter in the remodeled dining room, intended to send a message of unity. “In the same way it was used as a symbol of discrimination and of segregation, we want to use it as a symbol of unifying everybody,” Farias said.
Training and education
Rising Tide’s Fletcher and Fischer got more deeply involved as plans for a revamp at The Historic Manhattan Casino took shape.
Rising Tide will establish a coworking and business center with high-speed internet, computers, printers and mailboxes. It will be the first such center in the South St. Petersburg CRA, Farias said.
The remodeled space also will provide a venue for business meetings.
“We’re going to turn the upstairs ballroom during the daytime into a business center where you could have small meetings and luncheons,” Farias said. It will continue to host performances and weddings and parties in the evening. “We wanted to utilize this building more often and turn it into a 24-hour-a day venue.”
Callaloo Group will open the kitchen to small food operators who provide catering or sell food at markets. It also plans outside dining, and is talking to local growers about planting fresh vegetables in the back of the building.
Farias, Jackson, Fletcher and Fischer are establishing a nonprofit to train and educate the restaurateurs.
All of the branding will emphasize the building rather than the restaurants. The upstairs dance hall will be The Jordan Dance Hall at The Historic Manhattan Casino, and the coworking space will be Rising Tides at The Historic Manhattan Casino.
“That building has such amazing history that it should always have been branded that way,” Farias said.