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The Neon Lunchbox opens in former Hideaway space

Ashley Morales

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The Neon Lunchbox is now open at 1756 Central Avenue. Photos by Ashley Morales.

A vibrant new establishment has emerged in St. Petersburg, bringing with it a wave of nostalgia. 

The Neon Lunchbox, an ’80s and ’90s-inspired restaurant, cocktail bar and music venue, opened Monday in the former Hideaway Cafe space at 1756 Central Avenue. The retro-themed establishment is the brainchild of James “Ozzy” Castetter and Chelsey Andrews, the same owners and operators of the recently closed Half Baked Potato at 1626 Central Ave.

The Neon Lunchbox interior draws inspiration from ’80s and ’90s icons.

The building on the 1700 Block, which also houses The Burg Bar and Grill and Dirty Laundry, was home to the Hideaway Cafe for 13 years. The beloved local music venue closed its doors in late 2021 after the building’s landlord did not revnew its lease. Plans emerged to sell the entire block to be redeveloped into a mixed-use apartment building, but when those fell through, Castetter and Andrews jumped on the opportunity to lease the space.

“We actually had a few ideas for concepts, but it was really dependent on what space we could find. Once we found out this place was available, we kind of started to develop everything around this space,” Andrews said. “This block is great. It’s always packed next door at The Burg and Dirty Laundry. It’s a little more lively, so I think we bring a bit more fun and energy down this way.”

The Neon Lunchbox owners and operators James “Ozzy” Castetter and Chelsey Andrews are still looking to continue adding to their indoor decor with more throwback items, encouraging customers to bring in something vintage to donate and receive a discounted food item or free drink in return.

Andrews noted the decor is a mashup of her, and Castetter’s, childhood movies, TV shows and cultural icons. The indoor murals were painted by local artist Ben Milman, and many of the nostalgic items on the walls were used by the owners, employees, friends or regular customers as kids. 

As they wait on their alcohol license, Castetter and Andrews are marching on with their soft opening, focused on refining their lunch-focused, New Orleans-inspired menu. The owners say The Neon Lunchbox is a pure passion project, with the menu serving as a callback to Castetter’s classically-trained chef roots.

“Literally, I put all my favorite foods on this menu,” Castetter said. “I also wanted to go with more of a vegetarian base for a lot of people, so about half the menu is vegetarian. We also have some really great ’80s and ’90s favorites that we elevated.”

“We wanted to make sure that food was a priority here,” Andrews added. 

The 2,500 sq. ft. space also has an elevated stage, with plans for regular live music and themed nights, like a rock and punk night, EDM on Saturdays and an ’80s and ’90s throwback night. Andrews said they’re actively searching for local artists to play at The Neon Lunchbox.

“We wanted to try and keep the integrity of the Hideaway and not change the structure [of the building] a ton,” Andrews said. “St. Pete still deserves that really cool live music venue and a cool place to come to, so that was a big priority for us, as well. We’d like to host a local indie night to bring back a lot of those bands that were here at the Hideaway.”

The new Neon Lunchbox concept also includes a VIP room, decked out in graffiti that glows under the black lights and its own private horror-movie-themed bathroom. 

The Neon Lunchbox VIP room.

“In New Orleans, we feed everybody, and that’s our way of showing friendship and love,” said Castetter. “Here, I want people to come in and be comfortable, enjoy the food and have great music, but also have that ability to have a couple of cocktails and relax.”

“We’re really trying to make sure that local people get in here and we get noticed,” Andrews emphasized. “That was such a big deal to us, to make sure that happens. We’re doing everything with a local focus, because I think St. Pete is starting to slowly lose that. We want to get back to that.”

The Neon Lunchbox will be open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. all week during its soft opening phase. Once their new concept is well-established, Castetter and Andrews said they plan to reopen The Half Baked Potato at a new location in the area.

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