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Preps

Ceviche looking to rebound in Pinellas


Published:   |   Updated: July 5, 2013 at 04:55 PM

In April, the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation shut down the popular Spanish restaurant's downtown location for a day after finding numerous violations, including cockroaches in the kitchen and meat stored at unsafe temperatures.

Over the past weekend, the Clearwater restaurant on Gulf to Bay Boulevard closed, and the owners say they're in the process of selling the property, cutting the growing brand from six to five locations.

The good news is the company's much anticipated steak house in downtown St. Petersburg is nearing completion and is slated to open in August at the old YWCA building on Second Avenue South.

With new management at the helm at the downtown location and over the Ceviche brand as a whole, CEO Joe Orsino says his restaurants have regained the confidence of the local community.

"We have absolutely regained customers. Support has been outstanding," he said in an email.

Staff at the downtown Ceviche corrected the health code violations within hours of the inspection, and the restaurant reopened the next day, but it wasn't fast enough to avoid a flurry of bad press.

The general manager was fired, and the company replaced two outside service providers in the wake of the incident.

Independent food safety company Everclean Services now conducts monthly audits at all locations that go beyond state requirements, Orsino said in his email.

The company has spent a substantial amount of money sprucing up the restaurant and has held several public events in recent months, such as a fundraiser for the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts and Sangria Fest in Tampa, where Ceviche won the Guinness World Record for the world's largest sangria.

The Clearwater restaurant hasn't fared so well.

Ceviche's investment group, Caledon Concept Partners, bought the property at 2930 Gulf to Bay Blvd. in 2010.

The investment group decided to sell the property this year and focus on "growing new concepts and stores in more urban settings," Orsino said in his email.

The location, on a busy commuter road, stood in marked contrast to locations such as the Ceviche restaurants in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Sarasota and Orlando, all of which are in walkable urban centers.

The group is considering a future Clearwater location, either downtown or at the beach.

As for immediate plans, the restaurant's owners have confidence their new director of operations will give their forthcoming steak house in St. Petersburg a strong start and continue the brand's momentum.

A previous manager for the Stephen Starr restaurant group, which includes prominent names such as Morimoto, Joseph Floyd will oversee all of the brand's family of restaurants.

Providing more positive news could overshadow any negative reports lingering on the web if Ceviche's owners continue to proactively promote their message, marketing professionals say.

Once a company has acknowledged and fixed its problems, the next step for brands trying to overcome bad press is emphasizing the good news, said Bryan Bruce, founder of Your Brand Voice in Orlando.

St. Petersburg Downtown Business Association president Tami Simms welcomes the news of the new steak house, which she says will fill a void in the city's restaurant scene.

"I am tremendously excited about that. We have not had a good steak house in downtown St. Petersburg for quite some time," she said.

As for the restaurant's reputation as a brand, Simms thinks some locals may still have concerns, but Ceviche's overall draw probably hasn't been diminished.

"I don't think it has a long-term damage to their brand and certainly not their name recognition from the other locations," she said.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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