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Gandy restaurant project mixes food trucks, waterfront ambiance

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Published:   |   Updated: October 17, 2013 at 11:19 AM

A year ago, Scott Tashkin had sold his stake in a staffing firm and was having a drink with his wife at the I.C. Sharks bar in St. Petersburg when she pointed to the derelict property next door that used to be the Banana Boat bar.

“So we walked over and I guess that's how it started,” Taskin said. Not long after, Tashkin purchased the property and after months working from a construction trailer, the site is shaping up to become Tampa area's next luxury beach-side bar restaurant called The Getaway. “We've just always wondered why Tampa doesn't have more waterfront places with all this water around us.”

So they're building one, and this restaurant and bar will have the hippest of twists. Though the landscape will be lush and the drinks especially upscale, there will be no permanent restaurant kitchen. Instead, there will be a steady rotation of the hippest food trucks in Florida to provide food to an all open-air bar space along the water.

“At some point, maybe we build our own kitchen,” Tashkin said. “But when we floated this idea of bringing in food trucks, people got really excited.”

To pull off his project, Tashkin partnered with David Burton, an operator of local Pizza Fusion locations. When complete, the project could reach a $3 million budget for the land and construction. That includes floating docks with 30 boat slips. And there will be two tiki areas, one with a 1,600 square foot, open-air drinking and dining space, and another “dockside” bar near the boats.

The location sits just at the western landing of the Gandy Bridge in Pinellas County, and it faces south toward a set of mangroves and small islands. So a dockmaster at the Getaway will also rent out kayaks and paddleboards for anyone who wants to explore. Luckily, the site was already permitted for dock space, even though most had fallen into disrepair before construction started. Also luckily, the site sits midway between the decidedly gritty “Beercan Beach” on the south side of the Gandy causeway where people drive right up to the water for fishing and drinking, and the decidedly upscale office parks further inland and the affluent areas around Snell Isles and Coffee Pot Bayou.

During a recent tour of the space, a pair of boaters broke down just off the soon-to-be-built dock space — as their outboard motor battery died — and they drifted up to the waterfront space. “Hey, when do you guys open,” the boater asked. “Soon as we can,” Tashkin replied.

People should expect far more than just a thatched roof, Tashkin said. He's hired architects who designed many of the most upscale Key West restaurants. There will be lush landscaping, a covered walkway from the parking lot, a fireplace pit by the water, a tiki-covered fish pond, thatched band stage, and all drinks made with fresh ingredients — not pre-made mixers.

Though there are not a lot of beach-side places, there are a few recent projects in the area, including the Hulk Hogan-themed “Hogan's Beach” restaurant on the Courtney Campbell Causeway. The Gulf side has far more watery places, including the Salt Rock Grill, Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, Crabby Bill's and the Hurricane in Pass-A-Grille.

At one point, Tashkin and Burton had envisioned building out the derelict Banana Boat bar into a kitchen for the overall operation, but going with the food truck trend sparked huge interest, Tashkin said, and he'll spend the next few weeks sorting out which ones will be in the first rotation.

Some elements of this plan match with especially hip trends in restaurants, said Darren Tristano, a restaurant consultant with the market research and consulting firm Technomic. Besides the numerous food truck festivals that seem to grow bigger each year, at least a few restaurants are embracing food trucks — which had been seen as their natural competition for customers.

“In Austin, there are a number of bars where you order food at a stand behind the bar,” Tristano said. “If there's a trend here, it's the bring-your-own food trend.” The Getaway, he said, will have to balance the desire of customers for a consistent menu, with the allure of “Who knows what will happen tonight” adventure of just going to a beach bar to find out which food truck came, too.

Kathy Hayden, Editor-in-Chief of Food+Service Magazine, said food truck “clusters” are popular in cities such as Portland, Ore., that has several permanent places to park in the city.

She also notes the Truck Yard burger bar/beer garden in Dallas that launched with food truck service in an outdoor beer garden, serving steak sandwiches.

“The idea of gathering food trucks makes sense,” she said, “especially where weather and local regulations are agreeable.” The question in her mind is whether any such restaurant can make money off a variety of trucks, unless they end up charging rent/parking fees.

Meanwhile, contractors at the Getaway this week started to put up the major poles that will hold up the tiki bars, and if all goes according to plan, the restaurant will have a soft opening in November and a full opening in December.

rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

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