Washington, D.C.-based Wiseguy Pizza operator Nuri Erol has always envisioned building a food hall with unique concepts – -a goal he is now pursuing as he plans on breathing new life into the former Hofbräuhaus German restaurant.
Erol, who operates four Wiseguy Pizza locations in D.C., purchased the 17,297-square-foot restaurant space on 4th Street in downtown St. Petersburg this week in a $7.1 million deal.
However, St. Pete wasn’t even on Erol’s radar in scouting sites, but he describes falling in love with the city at first sight.
“I came to Tampa to see a friend and go on vacation in Miami, but I end up buying a property because I loved the area and then I loved the building,” Erol said. “I saw this beautiful building listed for lease and I called the broker the next day. People could come here one time and fall in love with it as I have.”
Erol, who is a Turkish-born entrepreneur, has dreamt of creating a food hall concept over the last seven years, filling it with individual food choices and becoming a destination for a community.
“All I know is the restaurant business,” he said. “I started with nothing myself when I came to this country. I started the Wiseguy restaurants in D.C. because people couldn’t get a good NY-style pizza there at the time. I’m not here to get rich. I want to have something unique. I am taking a huge risk for my dream.”
Erol is starting the process of relocating from D.C. to Tampa Bay, and communicating with the City of St. Pete.
Inside the large building, Erol has his work cut out for him with ceiling and roof repairs, and as the property has a historic designation tied to it, the exterior facade will remain – but Erol said he wouldn’t want to make changes to the exterior regardless of the designation.
The building also once housed the Tramor Cafeteria, and was used by the Tampa Bay Times as a staff cafeteria and meeting place.
While Erol doesn’t expect the food hall concept to get off the ground for at least a year, as it must go through permitting and other steps, he has already formed a plan to meticulously hand-select the vendors.
The concepts he wants to bring include a pizza concept Erol will operate himself, a deli with New York-style hoagies, a croissant concept from San Francisco, a NY-based bagel concept, restaurants serving ice cream to doughnuts, poke and vegan dishes, and Mexican and Turkish concepts. He would also like to have a cocktail bar that could take advantage of the outdoor patio space.
“I will look for the top concepts that are not franchised,” he said. “This will be a really fun project for me – either I fail or succeed. There is no in-between.”
He plans on working with the vendors closely as his vision comes to fruition.
Tampa Bay is home to several food hall concepts including Armature Works, located along the Riverwalk in the Tampa Heights neighborhood, and The Hall on Franklin, a European-inspired food hall in downtown Tampa.
In St. Petersburg, a handful of new food halls are underway. The old Woolworth building at 551 Central Ave. will become the site of the new Central Park St. Pete food hall that’s being developed by the Hi Hospitality Group. It will be completed in late 2022.
The tenants will include the Italian seafood restaurant Speaks Clam Bar and the Asian eatery Kojo, both of which are owned by Hi Hospitality Group.
Meanwhile, another new food hall concept will open inside Fusion 1560, an apartment building in the Edge District. Additionally, the 22nd Street South is expected to have a food hall for aspiring restauranteurs.