Steak house begins change to sports bar

Roadhouse Grill's menu shrinks, highlighting a dearth of restaurant chain options.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published August 9, 2007

SEMINOLE - The Roadhouse Grill, a popular local steak house, is becoming a sports bar.

The change comes as part of a larger transformation of the 57-restaurant chain, which was bought in April by Duffy's Sports Grill, a 15-restaurant chain based in Palm Beach. The $29-million deal will take Pompano Beach-based Roadhouse Grill Inc. private.

Officials from Duffy's could not be reached for comment.

But Seminole officials confirmed Friday that a change is taking place.

The first indication was when a restaurant representative came into City Hall to ask about changes in signage from Roadhouse to Duffy's. He announced the change and left a jar of peanuts behind. The peanuts were taken into the kitchen for all Seminole employees to share. Two employees went to the restaurant, 7498 Seminole Blvd., for lunch that day.

They found a new menu - a paper place mat instead of Roadhouse's five-page handout menu. There were fewer offerings, and the food leaned heavily toward sports bar fare.

"I eat most of the unhealthy stuff there anyway, so this is good," said Mark Ely, head of Seminole's development department. "It may affect somebody's palate, not mine."

Mayor Jimmy Johnson confirmed that the changed menu is evidence of further changes to come.

"From what I understand right now, they're only doing menu changes," said Johnson, who is also executive director of the Seminole Chamber of Commerce. "It's going to be a slow process."

The city has plenty of fast-food restaurants, such as Wendy's, Boston Market, Panda Express and Chick-fil-A. Many of them are clustered near downtown.

Seminole also has many locally owned dining places, such as the Country Kitchen, the Pickle Barrel deli and Boulevard Bistro, although that's technically in an unincorporated area. But most of those are nowhere near downtown, the Seminole Mall area.

Diners looking for a mid- or upper-level chain restaurant in Seminole are pretty much out of luck. The Applebee's at 10911 Starkey Road in the shopping center, which also has a Panera and the city's only Starbucks, is about the only choice. To find a Chili's, BJ's Brewhouse, Olive Garden or Lee Roy Selmon's, hungry folks have to go to Pinellas Park, Largo or St. Petersburg.

"There's not really any franchisees at all," Johnson said. "Most of them are locally owned. ... That's the hub of our economy."

So the Roadhouse loss is a kind of step backward for Seminole officials who have long wanted to attract hotels and mid- and upper-level restaurant chains to the city.

"We do need to pursue more restaurants in Seminole. That's a very high priority," Johnson said. "We could use four or five good restaurants."

Despite giving tours to inquiring developers, the city hasn't been able to hook any hotels or chain restaurants.

Johnson said he hates to admit it, but he doesn't know why, and "no one will ever tell me."

Ron Paul, president of Technomic Consultants in Chicago, said restaurant chains look at certain indicators when deciding where to locate. Technomic is a consulting firm that serves the restaurant and food industry.

The first thing restaurants look at is demographics - the number of people and the socioeconomic indicators. Seminole would seem to qualify on both of those counts.

But even if all that is perfect, Paul said, a city has to market itself. Officials or chamber leaders have to do things such as write to the franchise departments of the chains and make a pitch.

"You've got to promote yourself," Paul said.

Johnson said the chamber and city have been looking and plan to keep on trying.

"We won't give up on it."