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Novel approach

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  • | 10:59 a.m. January 19, 2018
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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman recently revealed the city's choice for one of the two new restaurants that will be part of the new St. Pete Pier.

Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille, a seafood restaurant chain owned and operated by Sanibel-based HM Restaurant Group LLC, will build its fourth and newest eatery along the pier approach on Second Avenue Northeast, in an area currently used for parking. The Doc Ford chain has restaurants on Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. The city's plan for the project calls for another, yet-to-be announced restaurant to be part of the Pier Head itself.

So who is Doc Ford? Avid readers will recognize the name from Randy Wayne White's series of best-selling mystery novels. To date, White, a co-owner of the restaurant, has published 24 Doc Ford adventures; the Florida-centric series includes titles such as “Sanibel Flats,” “North of Havana,” “Everglades” and “Tampa Burn.”

Before taking up the pen, White toiled for 13 years as a fishing guide based at Tarpon Bay Marina in Sanibel, where he became well acquainted with local seafood restaurants. Doc Ford also has a colorful past: before becoming a marine biologist and returning to his native Florida, he was a globetrotting, covert U.S. agent.

But it's the former occupation that appealed to St. Pete when it evaluated restaurant bids. In a press release, Kriseman says the eatery's marine biology theme will link up nicely with the new pier's education center and wet classroom.

“The pier committee and the mayor were sold on the concept of the character of Doc Ford, the local ties to the author as well as the restaurants themselves,” says Mark Marinello, an HM Restaurant Group partner. “They came down to one of our other restaurants and checked out our operations. However, we know we have a lot to live up to in terms of what people are expecting in St. Petersburg.”

With those high expectations in mind, Marinello says the budget for the restaurant is “well in excess of seven figures” and that it will employ between 100 and 130 workers, depending on the season.


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