Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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EatBeat: Restaurants Taking Hit in Gloomy Economy

January 8th, 2009 · No Comments

Several more restaurant closings to note – not exactly how I wanted to begin the year with this column.

After 12 years as one of the top Italian restaurants in town, Capri Blu in Palm Beach will close this weekend.

A letter was sent around Monday to announce the closing to the the stalwart customers who followed the restaurant across the bridge after its run in downtown West Palm Beach. It indicated another opportunity has come up for the family originally from the Isle of Capri.

Grace Tasca, who with her husband Amadeo owns the restaurant, said that a trio had approached them before the holidays wanting to take over the space on Sunrise Avenue.

“We came up with numbers, and they accepted. They want to move quickly, so we must be out by the 15th,” she said. A pizza eatery is planned, opening possibly in March, but she said she couldn’t release any further info at this point.

The economy was the defining factor for the closure, she said. “It’s hard right now for all the businesses over on the island,” Tasca said. After a slow start this season, the Madoff scandal hit, and even on the island, people are being more cautious with their money, she said. “People are cancelling parties and dinners, and saying they are not going out to eat as often.”

This will give her and her family some much needed time off, she said. “We may take a look at the end of the year and see — my husband won’t want to be out of the kitchen for so long. We may open a small place somewhere.”

Their relatives may be able to provide a little work — they own Buonosera in Jupiter, and Paradiso in Lake Worth.

Reservations are being taken for dinners through Saturday night at Capri Blu; call (561) 832-4300.

Gardens Restaurants Succumb

The economy may be blamed by the restaurants at Downtown at the Gardens and Legacy Place that have closed this week — The Strip House, Rosa Mexicano and Aqua Grill, but we suspect it’s a case of over-saturation. There are only so many diners in the area — and likely six to eight times the number of dining seats along PGA Boulevard. Restaurants count on turning their seats at least twice nightly to make a profit, so it’s no surprise that not filling all of them even once a night is problematic.

With the hundreds of choices they have, diners can be very choosy – and in the downturn, have gone for the more moderately-priced eats, or are cutting back the number of nights they dine out at the big-ticket meal spots.

All three of the restaurants had been struggling for a variety of reasons. The Strip House was involved for months in a lease lawsuit against the developers of Downtown at the Gardens. While it was ongoing, neighboring restaurants City Kitchen, The Grape and Max’s Grille closed and other restaurants that were planned in the plaza pulled out of their leases before opening.

Rosa Mexicano has struggled since before Cantina Laredo, a lower-priced Mexican chain, moved in west of it into Midtown. Rosa’s parent restaurant in New York was said to be carrying this one, and though the one Downtown cut back on lunch and even dinner service some nights, it never recovered its diners once season came around.

Many of the managers we spoke to at Downtown at the Gardens said the plaza design puts off potential diners — it’s difficult to get to the restaurants from the streets, and covered parking isn’t convenient.  They point to the Cheesecake Factory here, usually a top producer in any locale, saying it’s the slowest outlet in that chain.

Aqua Grill in Legacy Place had changed its manager, chef and its menu last year in an attempt to come out of its dry spell. Sitting right next door to the more casual Coolah Fish Bar that had already established itself as a seafood spot didn’t help its chances, however. And the maze-like traffic pattern in the plaza with minimal street parking put many off as well, sources said.

Tags: The Eat Beat: Restaurant News

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