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High-end seafood set for Northgate

Two Shells executives plan to open the restaurant in the hard-hit Northgate Square on Van Dyke Road next month.

By BILL COATS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


LUTZ -- Where pasta prevailed, seafood is about to make a splash.

Two longtime executives of Shells Seafood Restaurants have leased the space vacated on Van Dyke Road by Semolina International Pastas, and are planning to open Splash! an Ocean Grill. Another Shells?

The earliest answer came from the corporation that Chip Roehl and Tom Perkins formed two months ago -- NAC Restaurants Inc. NAC stands for "not a chain."

They envision a white-tablecloth place with a creative chef who can spontaneously plan each night's specials around the fish arriving daily at area wharves.

Standard selections will be grouper, tuna, salmon or trout, oak-grilled and served over a bed of sauteed spinach, or under mushrooms sauteed in a lobster and cognac-infused cream sauce. There will be pan-seared sesame-crusted tuna and eight other seafood choices. Mashed potatoes will be prepared in a lobster stock.

Entrees will range from $12 to $20, said Roehl, who was Shells' vice president of marketing for 14 years.

"Shells is family seafood; this is adult seafood," Roehl said. "You go to Shells to eat; here you go to dine."

Roehl, 45, and Perkins, 42, hope to steal diners from every restaurant except Shells. They are the chain's licensees for existing Shells restaurants in the Shoppes of Carrollwood, on 30th Street near Busch Gardens and in Sarasota.

Until February, Perkins, was the chain's director of operations for Florida.

Splash! is scheduled to open next month in a high-growth portion of Lutz, but also in a changing shopping center, Northgate Square. The center seemed to be a picture of prosperity until Dec. 11, when the 3-year-old Hollywood 20 theater closed in a theater industry shakeout.

On Jan. 30, Semolina served its last platter of pasta. Next door, a golf apparel shop, Fairway Fashions, closed. And recently, 2001 Flavors Cafe Plus, an ice cream shop, closed.

The ice cream business suffered from the theater closing, said Brett Low, senior property manager for shopping center owner North American Properties of Fort Myers.

The company has signed a letter of intent with a Chinese restaurant for that space, he said.

Low said the apparel store was pricing golf shirts between $85 and $190, too high for the area. He hopes to replace the store with an upscale beauty salon.

Roehl and Perkins vow to make Splash! a destination in itself, regardless of what happens next door.

"Our goal," said Roehl, "is to become the favorite restaurant of people in Lutz, Odessa and Cheval, where they feel at home, feel taken care of."

-- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 226-3469.

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