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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 17, 2011 9 years ago

Two-Sport Star

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Local football legend Lee Roy Selmon has found success running a sports restaurant chain during the past decade. He recently opened his seventh location but is taking a conservative approach to further expansion.
by: Carl Cronan Editor/Tampa Bay

Lee Roy Selmon means a lot to the Gulf Coast community, from being the first draft pick ever by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to serving as the former athletic director of the University of South Florida. Now he's flattered to be known as a restaurant icon, too.

The sports-themed chain bearing his name has been going strong for just more than 10 years. Most recently, it opened its seventh location in Palm Harbor along U.S. 19. It's the group's first expansion in five years, reflecting the conservative approach to new openings.

“It's been a good experience so far,” says Selmon, who worked with Tampa-based OSI Restaurant Partners to open the first location near International Plaza Mall in fall 2000. The restaurants have since gone to independent ownership, though his previous partners remain involved in operations. Additional locations are in New Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Bradenton and Fort Myers.

Selmon likes to describe his namesake restaurants as being geared to “sophisticated” sports fans, with a full-service restaurant adjacent to a large sports bar with plenty of big-screen TVs for sporting events year-round.

Menu items are diverse, with most entrees starting around $10. Desserts, smoked items and salads are the most popular, and even though salads in a sports bar seems a little contradictory, they are offered in response to customers' demands, Selmon says.

Signature items reflect Selmon's own favorites growing up in Eufaula, Okla., such as Mama's Meatloaf, Sweet Heat Fried Chicken and Soul Good Pulled Pork.

“It certainly has a sports flavor to it, but we want folks who enjoy food quality and variety as well,” Selmon says of the menu. “We want customers to walk out with a good feeling all the way around.”

Each restaurant is also a shrine to Selmon, who played for the Bucs from 1976 until 1984. He also played in six Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 1995.

Lee Roy Selmon's restaurants have made various adjustments through the years, such as adjusting portion sizes during the recession when many restaurants were struggling. Selmon says the chain did a lot of work to adjust menu prices and negotiate fair contracts with vendors, and it still monitors costs on a monthly basis. “We're grateful that we made it through and things are trending up again,” he says without revealing annual sales.

He adds that the restaurant chain pays close attention to the marketplace, tries to keep its menu fresh and makes changes to offerings at different times of the year. “Some make the team, other's don't,” he says.

Although the chain is being conservative about opening new locations going forward, Selmon says he he sees lots of opportunity throughout Florida. Whether the chain remains small or expands exponentially, he says, “we look forward to being around for another 10 or 20 years.”

As for the prospect of the restaurants being affected this fall by a looming National Football League lockout, Selmon, who was involved in a brief NFL strike during the 1982 season, says he's not too concerned.

“There's too much at stake for the players and the owners alike to not be playing,” he says. “I anticipate a deal will be done, and they always happen in the 11th hour.”

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