The former Mattison’s Steakhouse at the Plaza building has been empty since 2008. But those who are hungry for a new restaurant in the building won’t have to wait much longer.
W. Howard Rooks, who owns the building at 555 Bay Isles Parkway, plans to open an Italian restaurant in October that will be called Amore’ in partnership with Andrea Bozzolo, owner of Andrea’s on Siesta Drive.
“We will have an affordable menu, fresh seafood, steak and fine Italian cuisine,” Rooks said.
The restaurant will have seating for 260 diners and an outdoor patio and remodeled bar.
Rooks initially hoped to sell the property to Lakeland-based Publix Supermarkets Inc., which completed a rebuilt store and shopping center in late 2012. Publix purchased the adjacent 1.52-acre Town Plaza II shopping area from Rooks for $1.25 million in 2012 and demolished it to add parking.
“Publix wasn’t interested in buying the restaurant,” Rooks said. “But with the old plaza gone it doesn’t hide the building anymore, and now we’re much more visible to people shopping at the surrounding businesses.”
Rooks, 80, a Sarasota-based real estate investor who will head the financial side of Amore’, said he has sunk well more than $500,000 into the site’s renovation since beginning the project a year ago.
“It’s been a very expensive operation, but I insist we must have a first-class restaurant,” Rooks said. “I spent over $40,000 on landscaping alone, and we’ve re-done the kitchen, the electrical and repainted the interior and exterior of the building.”
Rooks said he took his time over the past six years since the building became vacant to evaluate the area’s economy, find the right partner and complete renovations.
Although he originally planned to open the restaurant last February, he decided to delay the opening to avoid missing peak season.
Bozzolo, who will serve as head chef, general manager and partner of Amore’, could not be reached for comment. However, Rooks said Bozzolo has dreamed of opening a large restaurant in the United States.
Born in the village of Pallanza, in Piedmont, Italy, Bozzolo moved to Sarasota in 2003 after visiting the area on vacation one year earlier.
Rooks, who paid $1.4 million for the 6,360-square-foot building in May 2004, said the property has been vacant since restaurateur Paul Mattison closed his Longboat Key restaurant in 2008 to focus on his Sarasota restaurants. The building, erected in the mid-1980s, is modeled after the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
In December, the Longboat Key Planning & Zoning Board granted Rooks a special exception that allows for 50 outdoor dining seats on an existing 1,600-square-foot patio. Combined with the vacant restaurant’s previous 210 indoor seats, the special exception allows for a 260-seat restaurant.
Town center timeline
Town Manager Dave Bullock updated the Longboat Key Town Commission at its Sept. 15 workshop about the timeline for building a proposed town center in the Bay Isles area.
A selection committee chose Tindale-Oliver & Associates to create concept plans for the proposed town center and overlay district. Contract negotiations are expected to be completed this week.
The town plans to hold a public open-house kickoff in early November and will hold public workshops in November and December.