Perhaps no restaurant in Tampa is as big, or will enjoy as great a view of the RNC, as Jackson's Bistro on Harbour Island.
The pastoral terraces overlook Bayshore Boulevard, the downtown skyline, the Convention Center and Forum, where the convention will take place. Anyone hoping to enjoy that view during the RNC, however, will need an invitation — and a very exclusive invitation at that.
The massive restaurant will close to the public for the whole week of the Republican National Convention, owners say, and serve a single customer: One unnamed lobbyist from Washington who will host breakfast, lunches and dinners throughout the week for hundreds of VIPs.
"The whole place will become something of a hospitality suite," said Jackson's owner Gregory Stinson. "They'll be entertaining politicians and people involved in government from all over the world."
The story started a year and a half ago when a lobbyist visited the restaurant and said they'd been scouting it for six months as a potential location and wanted to rent the whole place for the RNC. Stinson declined to name the lobbyist, but said the lobbyist had thrown similar events at the last three Republican conventions.
Stinson thought long and hard about closing the restaurant to the public — something he's never done in 15 years in business. It's a sizable place, sprawling more than 22,000 square feet, which is roughly two-thirds the size of a BestBuy store.
But Stinson researched the lobbyist's reputation in several cities. The trade-off appeared worth it, he said, and the restaurant might serve more than 10,000 meals in five and a half days with top-dollar breakfasts, lunches, dinners, cocktails, hors d'oeuvres. And events could stretch deep into the early morning hours. That's quite a bit more business than in a typical week.
"This was an offer we could not refuse," Stinson said, "and we thought with so many people probably just leaving town that week, it was a bird in the hand."
Other large restaurants have taken a more cautious approach. Bern's Steak House, for instance, booked several large RNC parties but will keep the rest of the restaurant open.
Hosting these events will come with some unusual rules for Jackson's. Campaign finance laws have limits on fundraising "dinners." But there are fewer limits on cocktail events, so many of the best food items will be stand-up munchies and will go out to customers as long as they aren't sitting down for a formal meal.
Security precautions will likely limit foot traffic on the Harbour Island bridge, and employees will likely have to register with the U.S. Secret Service, which manages security for the overall event.
For now, Stinson is trying to warn his regular customers that the restaurant is closed for a private event, and after the RNC, he plans a large marketing push to bring people back. Hopefully, he said, the whole project is worth it.