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Market-cafe to replace JJ's Subs

A foodie's dream, sans menu, is coming to 409 Central.

By PAUL SWIDER
Published February 4, 2007


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A popular downtown lunch spot is leaving and is being replaced by a novel concept that will expand two other restaurants.

JJ's Subs and Salads has operated at 409 Central Ave. for almost 15 years, but its latest owners sold it because they couldn't juggle it with their other family businesses near Philadelphia.

"We're sad, but we had to do it," said Carlo Aquilone, who with Franco Lucci bought JJ's in 2004 to go along with two restaurants they own in western New Jersey. "It became too hard to do the back and forth."

Perhaps as early as March, diners will be able to visit ZKitchen, a market-cafe concept spinning off ZGrille and Bowl-a-Granola.

"You're not going to see granola tacos, but you never know," said Zach Gross, a San Diego chef who opened ZGrille two years ago after moving in 2003 to St. Petersburg, hometown of his wife, Jen.

The Grosses are partnering with Margaret Guidicessi, who runs the granola store on Fourth Street N and was earlier a chef at Mazzaro's Italian Market on 22nd Avenue N.

ZKitchen borrows a bit from Mazzaro's in that it will provide raw goods, prepared ingredients for meals, completed meals for reheating, and ready-to-eat foods for dine-in or carry-out.

The new business will have foods in the California-Mexican style of ZGrille, along with granola and baked goods as at Guidicessi's store. Within a space that will look and feel like a kitchen, there will also be a coffee bar, some indoor and outdoor seating and maybe even a newsstand. But no menu.

"There will never be a menu," Guidicessi said, because the food will be ever changing and seasonal.

"We're independent people," Gross said. "We have no rules to follow but the ones we make."

Still, they plan to focus on unique and innovative dishes to cater to what they see as a changing marketplace.

"There are a lot of foodies here," Guidicessi said. "We want people to take our food seriously."

Gross and Guidicessi have already started working together, both in catering and at the Saturday Morning Market.

Catering work will happen in the new space, and Guidicessi will move all her kitchen operations there, but she will keep her store as well and may franchise it.

The kitchen concept is to play off the idea of the hearth as gathering place. Gross said his open kitchen at ZGrille has become a gathering spot where people like to come and feel involved in the restaurant.

The deal to buy the JJ's space has been in the works since November, Gross said. Various obstacles arose and delayed the sale, which was final Jan. 31. JJ's closed its doors in anticipation earlier in the week.

Aquilone bought JJ's from Moreno De Leonardis, who had owned it for five years but had worked there for 11.

Aquilone said his family and partners tried to keep their St. Petersburg presence, but family pulled them back. When a relative got into an auto accident back home and needed help, it was the final straw, so they sold.

"We'd like to thank the community for all their support," he said. "Sorry we couldn't give them enough notice."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 20:37:21]


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