CLEARWATER BEACH — The historic Marina Restaurant located at the Clearwater Beach Marina closed its doors Sunday only to be reopened under a new look and owner in 8 to 10 weeks.
Patti Wolkowsky, who along with her husband Tom, has owned and operated the diner since 1996, reached an agreement with the city to transition the business to restaurateur Frank Chivas of Baystar Restaurant Group. He plans to reopen the diner before October.
“I’ve been working closely with the city and Frank, and have had time to reflect about what’s best for me. So, I’ve decided to retire my apron and spatula and open a gift shop. I’m really excited,” she said.
The diner has been a fixture of the marina since the 1950s. The Wolkowksys assumed the lease from her parents, Edward and Ursula Metallo, who operated the diner in the early 1990s. Collectively, the family has operated the restaurant for the past 24 years.
The Wolkowskys most recent three-year lease with the city for the existing restaurant portion of the building expires at the end of September.
“I came to this decision for several reasons,” Wolkowsky said, “and some personal like my age. …The gift shop will allow me to work long into my gracious senior years.”
Like the rest of the building, that area will also undergo an extensive restoration which calls for the breakfast and lunch spot to reopen in the west end, where the former Marina Gift and Souvenirs Shop was located before it closed last year.
“I’m excited for the new energy and overall revitalization of the restaurant. It’s going to have wonderful views. I am very thankful that the city of Clearwater agreed to allow me to open a gift shop and that Frank (Chivas) agreed to continue the Marina Restaurant.”
She also said that because the diner will not reopen for several weeks while it’s under construction, the Marina Restaurant staff has been offered interim employment at the Baystar restaurant group.
“Frank doesn’t want to change what already works; he only wants to improve what needs improving,” she said.
Wolkowsky attributed the restaurant’s success to “our entire crew. They played an enormous and intricate part. It was the crew who learned every customer name, every specialty order – the quirks and qualms. They were as dedicated to the satisfaction and the comfort of our customer as much as we were.”
The restoration and project plans call for the existing diner to be gutted, then reconstructed to accommodate the retail shop.
Wolkowsky intends to carry traditional beach items in the gift shop like suntan oils. She also plans to carry quality resort items and souvenirs.
Another marina gift shop, the Olde Nautical Shoppe, closed in 2012 after nearly 20 years of business. The space was reconstructed into an office for the city’s marina operation.
As for the 60-year-old marina building, construction continues. The undertaking began about two years ago. The time is necessitated by the need to bring the building into compliance with federal, state and local building codes.
According to city records, Chivas is pouring an estimated $2.5 million into the marina building, of which $1.376 million will go towards building improvements; the rest for his restaurant, the Marina Cantina Tequila Bar and Grille, which is expected to open soon.
In return, the city agreed to offer a reduce lease rate for the first seven years to help offset the two year build-out period.
The “old Florida” landmark’s outer surface will be returned to its 1950s vintage nautical architectural look, reminiscent of a steamboat in dry dock, with trademark porthole windows, and a smokestack on top of the building, which will serve as an elevator.
That style emerged in the 1930s and is attributed to South Beach’s art deco district in Miami Beach.
Years ago, a developer approached the city seeking to demolish the building and construct a hotel or condominium. Thanks to marina allies and this investment, the marina caught a second wind.