After enduring a series of setbacks that might’ve made less determined restaurateurs run for the hills, the Boys in the Burg are finally ready to unveil The Big Catch at Salt Creek.
Opening day is this Thursday, July 11.
Last fall, Mario Farias, Jon LaBudde and Larry Munch, doing business together as The Boys in the Burg, LLC, purchased the troubled Fish Tales Seafood House, located on the western edge of Harborage Marina in Old Southeast St. Petersburg.
As with most real estate transactions, it was all about location, location, location. The site’s waterfront views, over the marina and Salt Creek, are unparalleled. All three partners are St. Pete natives who live in or near Old Southeast, and had decried the lack of a local “hangout” that served good food in a low-key atmosphere.
The ramshackle Fish Tales wasn’t it.
In December, the threesome announced that the newly-minted Big Catch – named for a popular downtown spot owned by LaBudde in the ‘90s – would open in January after massive renovations including all-new bar buildouts and an indoor dining room, a good scrub and a paint job.
As the days, weeks and months ticked by, opening kept getting pushed back. “When we began to open the place up, to see what was really wrong with it, we realized that everything was wrong with it,” explains Farias.
“It wasn’t a lemon, it was just a neglected building by the previous management. On the outside it looked one way, and on the inside it looked a different way.”
What it looked like was one thing after another another. They had to completely replace the electrical system, plumbing and air conditioning; the entire kitchen was gutted and fitted out with brand-new equipment. Numerous structural stats had to be re-examined and overhauled.
The Big Catch has two newly-built outdoor tiki bars, plenty of outdoor dining (each wooden table has been individually painted by a different local artist) and a spacious dining room inside.
The Big Catch had a soft opening July 5-7, publicized only through social media. “All of the people who have been so faithful, following us, we gave them a great weekend,” Farias says. “And everything went good, our food was amazing, our staff is tremendous. We had about 200 people on Friday night – it was packed. And Saturday and Sunday were busy all day. Even in the pouring rain, we were still full.”
State Senator Darryl Rousson and U.S. Representative Charlie Crist turned up to break bread and talk with patrons. “All weekend long, people were coming in to renew old friendships or see people they hadn’t seen before,” Farias says. “The neighborhood people from Old Southeast have been all through here, and they’re so happy we’re open again – now that it’s clean bright and light, and fun.”
There was, however, one last catch – a big catch, in fact – that almost made the shakedown cruise impossible.
“We couldn’t get our liquor license until of course we passed our health inspection,” Farias explains. “We had already decided we were going to open July 5, for the weekend.
Once the health inspection was passed, he says, the Boys applied for their liquor license on July 1. “It’s supposed to take 24 to 48 hours; with the holiday it took till 4 o’clock on Friday. That’s when we got it.”
By then, of course, it was too late to order from a wholesaler, so the partners went out and bought boxes of liquor from a package store. Anyone who showed up July 5-7, while they still had to pay for food, discovered that all the drinks were on the house.
“We built up a lot of goodwill, and let people see what we’ve done to the place. It’s a whole different place.”
Farias is a global business consultant and a partner in the Pipo’s and Callaloo restaurants, Munch owns the venerable Munch’s Restaurant (66 years in the same southeast location) and LaBudde is a successful developer whose resume includes the operation of numerous restaurants and other businesses.
Each has his own business partner who eventually bought into the Big Catch – making a total of six Boys in the Burg.
Says Farias: “The good thing about these six months that it took us to do this? We’ve had time to think about what we wanted to do, think about our menu, think about how we wanted to serve it. So the day we opened, we knew where we were going and what it was going to look like … and we haven’t been disappointed with anything.”
The vision, he adds, has never changed. The Big Catch at Salt Creek is for people who don’t want to go all the way out to the beach, dealing with the tourists and the traffic; similarly, the swanky restaurants on Beach Drive downtown aren’t for them.
“We felt then like we feel right now. This is a piece of St. Petersburg history, almost. There’s not that many places you can go to and it’s ‘Old St. Pete,’ where you come in with your flip flops.”
Beginning July 11, business hours are 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. More info here.