Co-owner Jeremy Osment hopes to attract UTC customers with exotic dining experience.
It was June 2019 and Selva Grill Co-owner Jeremy Osment was in the process of negotiating a deal to build a second location for his restaurant.
Selva Grill’s original location in downtown Sarasota had opened about 14 years earlier and Osment felt he was ready to expand to a new market. He had zeroed in on a spot in Tampa when he found himself sitting in traffic at East County’s University Town Center. He spotted newly constructed walls for a future building that would be located near the University Parkway entrance to UTC.
“You know what?” Osment remembered saying at the time. “That’s a good-looking building.”
He called his real estate broker the next day and, while they talked about the possibility of trying to finalize their deal in Tampa, he mentioned what he saw at UTC.
He met with the listing agent for the UTC building, liked what he heard and created a three-dimensional model of what he wanted his restaurant to look like. He knew it might not be easy to design it around the building’s natural curves and triangular spaces and worried the agent would tell him his vision wasn’t possible.
“The answer was, ‘Yes, we can make it work,’” Osment said.
He scrapped his plans for Tampa and didn’t look back, opening Selva Grill’s second location in May at University Town Center.
For many years, Osment said he didn’t want to open a second location in Sarasota because he didn’t want to compete with himself. However, the rapid growth of Lakewood Ranch led him to wonder if it could be an entirely new market for his business, especially considering how close it is to UTC.
“The jury’s still out on that,” Osment said. “I felt confident enough that the answer is yes.”
Osment said Selva Grill is a Latin American-inspired steakhouse and seafood restaurant that aspires to provide an exotic experience for customers. Presentation is crucial, as Selva builds many of its dishes vertically and includes plenty of color on its plates that he hopes will wow patrons.
“A lot of restaurants, you go and order steak, it comes on a big white plate and it's got a lot of butter on it,” Osment said. “Then you order your own sides. It comes with a la carte, family-style potatoes, broccoli, mac and cheese. Here at Selva, every single entree is chef-paired with a side and a sauce to be complete. … We're trying to take people outside of their comfort zone and come into a chef-owned restaurant and provide a curated dining experience.”
Selva’s executive chef and co-owner, Ysacc Sanchez, is Peruvian. (The restaurant’s third co-owner is Raj Rajan.) Sanchez’s Peruvian influence can be seen on the menu, but Osment said the cuisine has been influenced by “exotic fruits and vegetables and spices” from across South America, including Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador.
Osment said the restaurant offers two different dining experiences — one in the dining room and one in the lounge. The dining room is brighter, with natural sunlight complementing blues and greens. It also features a mural inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night like the one featured at the downtown Sarasota location.
The lounge is a bit dimmer and tinted with red. Unlike the dining room, it is first-come, first-serve and does not accept reservations, according to Osment.
Osment said the key to succeeding at UTC will be creating a late-night dining scene. He said most people in the area seem to be done with dinner by around 9 p.m. However, he said that was also the case when the original Selva Grill first opened in downtown Sarasota.
“We kind of were at the forefront of creating a scene, so we're hoping to do that here,” Osment said. “We’ve got a couple other bars that are getting ready to open on the same strip here, so I think we're at the right timing.”
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