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Monday, Sep 22, 2014
Food & Dining

Besito Mexican restaurant takes Palm space at WestShore Plaza

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WestShore Plaza is trading upscale steaks for upscale tacos, with a restaurant backed by one of Tampa’s dining icons: Outback Steakhouse founder Chris Sullivan.

The now-empty Palm steakhouse space will soon be replaced by the upper-tier Besito Mexican restaurant.

This will be the first Florida location for Besito, and the sixth nationwide, built with a form of modernistic “hacienda style” decor, and featuring 75 varieties of tequilas. The word “Besito” translates as “little kiss.”

Counted among the founders of Outback Steakhouse, Sullivan is a primary investor in Besito, along with his business partner Hugh Connerty.

“I’ve known Hugh for 30 years and we decided a year ago to get back into the restaurant business together and look for growth opportunities,” Sullivan said. “Through some mutual acquaintances, Hugh discovered Besito and it was a brand out of Long Island with three locations. We really liked the business, liked the partners and the whole team and decided to move forward with them.”

After a Boston area Besito location opened to great success, Sullivan said the former Palm space in Tampa became available in WestShore Plaza, and he jumped at the chance. “We think Mexican, and particularly at the higher quality level, there’s an extraordinarily wide-open field,” he said. “We love the Westshore area, and obviously we’ve built a lot of restaurants in the district and we think this brand will be a success there.”

Outback, now renamed Bloomin’ Brands Inc., operates several other national restaurant chains, including several within a stone’s throw of WestShore Plaza, including Flemming’s Prime Steakhouse, Roy’s Asian-style seafood, plus the original Outback Steakhouse location on Henderson Boulevard and the new Carmel Cafe brand nearly right next door that Sullivan is helping grow.

Besito is not a “fast growth” concept, Sullivan said, but he does expect that in the next three to four years that they’ll have three to four more locations.

As for the price point, Besito will rank at the top of the Mexican food landscape in Tampa Bay. For instance, a chicken taco dish is priced at $17.95, a mixed platter of steak/chicken/chorizo enchiladas is priced at $19.95 and a Negra Modelo-marinated filet mignon is priced at $27.95.

“This is not a Flemming’s prince point, and not a Ruth’s Chris or Capital Grille or Eddy V’s price point,” Sullivan said. “It’s between a polished casual and upscale segment.”

Besito tends to pick affluent cities for expansion. Other locations include Huntington, New York; Roslyn, Virginia; West Hartford; Connecticut; and Burlington and Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The Tampa location is expected to open by the end of 2014.

The Palm restaurant closed in March, leaving a 7,500-square-foot hole in the lineup of restaurants at WestShore, which includes P.F. Changs China Bistro, Maggiano’s Little Italy and Mitchell’s Fish Market.

rmullins@tampatrib.com

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