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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Wednesday, May 23, 2012 6 years ago

Don Pablo's owner laments what could have been

The Loft Ristobar, a high-end restaurant and nightclub that opened in Sarasota in 2010, will reopen as a Don Pablo's.

The Loft Ristobar, a high-end restaurant and nightclub that opened in Sarasota in 2010, could never get away from its past — from 1998-2006, it was a Don Pablo's Mexican restaurant.

“Every time we would tell someone directions, we would tell them the old Don Pablo's,” says Loft owner Steve Rinehart, also a local homebuilder. “People would instantly know where that was.”

Rinehart adds that he would hear from people regularly how much they missed Don Pablo's, which left the region in 2006. “Don Pablo's had a cult following that's still kind of strong,” Rinehart tells Coffee Talk.

So Rinehart will now embrace the restaurant's Tex-Mex history: He closed the Loft late last year and will reopen May 23, this time as a Don Pablo's. The second time around the restaurant will have an expanded menu, says Rinehart, including more freshly made entrees.

The location, just west of the Fruitville Road exit of Interstate 75, is the first Don Pablo's franchise operation for the eatery's parent company, Madison, Ga.-based Rita Restaurant Corp. A subsidiary of Waltham, Mass.-based investment fund DDJ Capital Management, Rita Restaurant bought 37 Don Pablo's in 15 states from bankruptcy in February 2008.

Still, while Rinehart is excited and optimistic about Don Pablo's the sequel, he's also disappointed the Loft didn't make it. After Don Pablo's left in 2006, new owners turned it into a Cuban restaurant, Tropicana. That concept came and went, and Rinehart then launched the Loft. It included platform seats, a dance stage and state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems.

But after about a year, Rinehart could see the Loft wasn't going to make it. So he reached out to Rita Restaurant executives to talk franchises. Says Rinehart: “It's very difficult in this town to operate a successful independent restaurant.”

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