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Pro to head gourmet market

Published July 13, 2007


NORTH BON AIR - When Paul Ruel sat down with a friend to talk about a new gourmet market, it was supposed to be a fact-finding mission.

Ruel owns the Outdoor Kitchen Store on Kennedy Boulevard and wanted to break into the fresh-market business.

"My plan was to hire a butcher," Ruel said.

For advice, he called his buddy John Pivar, who also happened to be the executive chef of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg.

Pivar had other ideas. He was looking for a change after more than 25 years of long days in countless kitchens around the country.

"He wanted me to consult, but it was like, 'Dude, this is exactly what I was looking for,' " Pivar said. "It had my name written all over it."

Pivar will run the Outdoor Kitchen Gourmet Market as general manager when it opens, tentatively on July 26, at 3917 W Kennedy Blvd., west of N Church Avenue. The market will be next door to the kitchen store, so customers looking for appliances and accessories will be able to shop for fish and beef a few yards away.

Pivar is already a familiar face to Outdoor Kitchen customers because he has taught cooking classes there twice a month; the Thursday night sessions will resume in September. He is also the author of two cookbooks - Taste the Vinoy - Without Reservations and Fire It Up: Grill with Flavor, Flair and Fun.

At the new market, he'll answer questions about quality cuts of meat and give tips on cooking resort-quality dinners.

"We're going to educate people as well as sell to them," Pivar said. "That's truly what's going to make us different."

The gourmet business in Tampa is increasingly crowded, Pivar and Ruel say. But Ruel says the 2,000-square-foot building where his market will be housed is an ideal location. He has already developed an extensive customer base at the kitchen store.

"If I didn't own a business in Tampa and I was trying to open one of these up, I don't know if we would do it," Ruel said. "But our day-to-day traffic is strong and we've got enough of a customer base."

The initial business plan didn't include having an award-winning chef behind the counter.

But Pivar, 42, said he saw the new job as a chance to settle his life down a bit. He got married last year and "sooner or later in your career you ask what's next."

He has cooked professionally since age 15, when his best friend's parents hired him to work in their restaurant. At 18 he joined Stouffer Hotels and rose through the ranks during stops in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Dallas. He had a stint at Disney and spent five years at the Scottsdale Princess resort before landing his first executive chef job at the Sanibel Resort and Spa in 1999.

In 2000, Pivar was named executive chef at the Vinoy, and in 2001 won the prestigious Renaissance Executive Chef of the Year award.

It was great "having the comfort of a huge hotel corporation behind me." But now, Pivar says, the time is right to share some of what he has learned. He resigned June 1.

Some of his best work may be behind the scenes: He said he establishes good relations with vendors to get choice beef and fresh fish, "four- and five-star property style products" that he thinks customers will be willing to pay a premium for. The rest of the market will be stocked with deli cuts, cheeses, wines, sauces and other gourmet items.

"Being an executive chef is trying, it's fun, it's exciting and it's very rewarding," Pivar said. "Truly the rewarding part is serving great food to people. Doing cooking classes the last five years, I've learned that people want to cook that way at home. It's not a matter of cooking fancy, it's having great products."

Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3394 or e-mail


If you go

The Outdoor Kitchen Gourmet Market is tentatively scheduled to open on July 26 at 3917 W Kennedy Blvd. Store hours will be 10-6 Monday through Friday and 10-4 Saturday. For more information, call the Outdoor Kitchen Store, next door, at (813) 875-3447.


[Last modified July 12, 2007, 08:48:30]

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