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Recipe for success

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  • | 10:00 a.m. January 2, 2015
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When Bill Edwards gave Chef Michael Mina a call to see if he was interested in building a restaurant at Sundial, he had no idea that the plan they would come up with would be the biggest investment thus far for the 71,000-square-foot development in downtown St. Petersburg.

Edwards was hoping that the successful chef with 25 restaurants, including three in Miami, would want to expand to his upscale development. Edwards began to run through the different restaurants and stores that were going in at Sundial, a list that includes Ruth's Chris Steak House, Tommy Bahama and Chico's. He mentioned that he wanted to build a local market as well. That's when Mina said:
“Woah, woah, woah. Back up.”

What Edwards didn't know was that Mina had designed a concept for a market in New York City that was put on hold five years ago. It was Mina's passion project, something he always wanted to come to fruition. What ensued took Edwards by surprise, Mina remembers. “I sent him what I had. I said this is new to any city. It would be unique to a New York, San Francisco or Chicago.” The concept was 22,000 square feet, requiring 60 to 80 chefs and more than 150 employees.

His vision — Locale Market, which opened in mid-December — focuses on featuring local ingredients and specialty items shoppers can't find anywhere else.

“I don't think there is another market anywhere in the world like this,” Edwards says. The market features close to 3,000 different specialty items, including meat that is salt-aged 50-60 days in-store, yellow tomato sauce and homemade ice cream and candies, he boasts.

Every month the market will change the menu, featuring 10 new seasonal specialty items.

Mina says from day one, Edwards picked up the vision for what has become Locale Market, even though he was a little shocked to hear the market would have 18 kitchens. “Bill was very adamant,” Mina says. “He'd say, 'I want you guys to be the focal point of this and think out of the box.'”

Mina called his best friend, east coast chef Don Pintabona, to partner with him to bring the market to life.

To make the concept work, Mina said they needed to confirm three things. First, they wanted to make sure there was enough local product that they could leverage. Over the last six months, Pintabona was in charge of sourcing all of the food, and building relationships with local farmers, fishermen and food and beverage producers.

Second, they verified that the market potential existed. Downtown St. Petersburg was determined a great fit because of its surrounding neighborhood community with high-rise condominiums in their targeted demographic, Mina says.

Third, they wanted to make sure the concept was a fit. They looked at the success of other markets around, and found that the community and the feeder market from Tampa seem to appreciate “good food,” Mina says. The closest supermarket is a Publix, which is always packed and knows it needs to find a new space, according to Edwards.

The challenges of building out Locale and Sundial are over, Edwards says. “After all of the dust cleared and everything's done, it's like a beautiful swan.” Looking back, Edwards thinks he should have just knocked down the development formerly known as Baywalk and started fresh when he bought it for $5.2 million in October 2011. “But all of the money spent will be appreciated by shoppers.”

Mina declined to disclose any forecasts for 2015, for he says they'll be making estimates month by month since there's not enough experience in the market to really know what to expect. “We're not looking to be the next certain type of store,” Mina says. “We're looking to be the first Locale.”

“It's the most expensive market ever built,” Edwards adds, while declining to say how much he's invested. “But also the most amazing one.”


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