Maria Merello and her wife want to take St. Pete locals into a two-dimensional world, making it feel as if they are walking into an illustration by creating a new immersive experience in the Grand Central District – the 2D Café.
The owners, both named Maria, are planning to host a grand opening Friday for the restaurant at 2105 Central Ave.
The Merellos said they fell in love with the concept two years when reading about the popularity of 2D cafés emerging in Tokyo.
“I started looking into the concept and saw it did not exist in the U.S. [at the time],” Merello said. “It’s so hard to find a new experience that hasn’t been created yet.”
Since signing a lease for the space in December, Merello has made some interior cosmetic upgrades to the space and added arches inside. She worked with local artist Chad Mize, who designed the comic book-like flat illustration by outlining the storefront with bold black lines in a black-and-white monochrome scheme – creating a unique experience for people to escape from reality.
“The owners have seen my previous work and reached out to me. This is the largest interior project I’ve ever done,” Mize said, describing how the large space seemed a bit daunting at first.
Mize, who was assisted by another local artist, Andrea Pawlisz, worked on the brushwork for a month during the interior buildout.
The pair had reference photos, but Mize wanted to put his own freeflow artistic spin on it and included personal touches on the walls such as paintings of his dog, the Merellos’ cat, the initials of the couple’s kids as well as “M + M” for both Marias.
He also painted windows on the walls depicting European landscape scenery, paying homage to Merello’s family roots.
Once opened, the café will serve pastries, coffee, made-from-scratch empanadas, and charcuterie boards served in a cone shape wrap. It will be open from Wednesday to Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
On securing the space
The couple started site searching in October for locations and considered buying a small bungalow to design different 2D rooms, with each room having a certain theme; however, they were determined to set up shop on Central Avenue.
“I’ve always had my heart set on this neighborhood,” Merello said while giving the St. Pete Catalyst a tour of the kitchen and dining area.
The space formerly housed the bakery swah-rey, which was bound in a lease agreement until a new tenant could take over the space.
Gary Dove, the owner of the multi-tenant building, said since the announcement of swah-rey’s closure, he’s received a swell of interest.
“As soon as they announced it, I received 15 calls from people inquiring about the space,” Dove said.
The Merellos connected with Jenna Malowany with Keller Williams Commercial, who then reached out to Dove.
“I am constantly taking clients over to the Grand Central District because it’s known as a supportive neighborhood and has enough traffic for local businesses to succeed,” Malowany said.
The 2D Café shares the building with its neighbors Kava, On Pinte Dance Wear and Wendy’s Closet.