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Longtime chef now heads Hangar Restaurant

Veronica Brezina

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The Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge. All images: Facebook.

Longtime executive chef Matthew Smith can be seen crafting dishes inside the iconic Hanger Restaurant and Flight Lounge in St. Petersburg, which he will continue to do under his new title as the owner. 

Smith, serving as the general manager with 20 years under his belt working alongside St. Pete’s most talented chefs, is now driving in the pilot’s seat as the new owner of the restaurant at Albert Whitted Airport, succeeding the ownership of restauranteur Steve Westphal. 

Matthew Smith (left) and Steven Westphal (right).

Westphal, who runs the St. Pete Hospitality Group, opened the restaurant in 2010, and it has become a popular destination for pilots to congregate over lunch or dinner as the other customers watch aircraft taking off and landing. 

“I’ve worked with Steve since I was 21 and I’m now 36. I grew up under his mentorship,” Smith said. “We have a close relationship, he has built a great foundation and cares about the community,” recalling when he started bussing tables and worked his way up to line cook and eventually earning a title as a chef in the food scene. 

Smith has held the title of general manager of the restaurant since 2014. He previously worked at the Oyster Bar St. Pete as an executive chef and as a sous chef for Parkshore Grill. “It’s always been a dream of mine to own a restaurant,” he said.

After a year in the making, Smith and Westphal closed on the deal just before Thanksgiving Day. Smith previously had a 10% ownership stake in the business, and is now the sole owner. 

The Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge. 

Westphal owns Parkshore Grill and Cafe Gala at the Dali Museum. In 2021, he sold 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House.

“This was a good business when I bought it and it’s going to stay on its course – it will not change,” Smith said, stating how he believes it’s important to retain the restaurant’s identity as the city continues to evolve.

“I was born and raised in St. Pete; I have worked my entire life here. I’m glad this deal happened. To be a young guy and do this on my own without backers is huge and goes a long way,” he said, explaining he has been financially preparing for this moment for years and hopes his journey will resonate with others sharing a similar goal. 

He plans to acquire more restaurants in the years to come. 

Today, the Hangar has 50 employees who will not be impacted by the new ownership. Smith praised their dedication, noting how some crewmembers have worked at the restaurant for over five or 10 years. 

Although Smith’s title has changed, he will still be seen circling the restaurant, splitting his time between the kitchen and new duties such as strategizing on advertising. 

He has hired a kitchen manager; that will allow Smith to free up his hands.  

The Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge. 

The restaurant will continue to work with nonprofits and other groups including Feeding Tampa Bay, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Metropolitan Ministries. 

Smith will be competing in the Tampa Bay Food Fight Jan. 31 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The proceeds benefit Metropolitan Ministries’ Culinary Arts Program. 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rick Smith

    November 28, 2022at4:28 pm

    Matt has always run that place well. I suspect he will continue. I wish him and his team all the best. I’d like to thank Veronica Brezina for a really nice piece.

  2. Avatar

    matt

    November 28, 2022at9:57 pm

    Such a cool story….the Westphals continue to show what amazing people they are by constantly giving back to this community…and this transaction shows respect and loyalty are a two way street…and are very much alive in their business!

  3. Avatar

    Liz

    November 29, 2022at2:32 pm

    Love the Hangar but can we have some new menu items while keeping the old favorites? It hasn’t changed in years.

    • Veronica Brezina

      Veronica Brezina

      November 29, 2022at2:43 pm

      He said he will be adding at least two new items.

  4. Avatar

    Dan Masi

    November 30, 2022at7:24 am

    Congratulations Matt and thank you for supporting the Florida Elks Association

  5. Avatar

    Joyce lafray

    November 30, 2022at2:17 pm

    Good to hear. It’s a good venue but the food has been average. Hope this new chef adds some pizzaz to the menu!

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