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Pitcher invests in restaurant

Yankees' hurler David Cone joins a group resurrecting a place in the "Restaurant Burial Ground.''

By EILEEN SCHULTE

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 12, 2000


OLDSMAR -- They've both been in a painful slump, New York Yankees pitcher David Cone and the ramshackle waterfront building next to Beer Bellies bar.

And each has a nickname: One is called Coney. The other is known as the Great Restaurant Burial Ground.

Now both are trying for a comeback. Cone recently was at the Yankees' training facility in Tampa to work with team pitching guru Billy Connors. While he was here, he agreed to invest in Jack Willie's, the latest restaurant planned for 1011 St. Petersburg Drive, according to Jack Willie's partner Vince Amodie.

The sports-and-beach-themed restaurant is scheduled to open in October. Amodie said its slogan will be "Where Baseball Meets the Beach."

Previous establishments that opened at that location, which overlooks Moccasin Creek, started with fanfare, then withered and died. The pattern has repeated itself so often that the newsletter of the Greater Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce recently referred to the location as the "Great Restaurant Burial Ground."

But Amodie thinks this time it's different.

Amodie won't say how much he and his partners paid for the building, or how much renovations will cost, only that they are investing about $100,000 in the kitchen alone.

He said he has been told that the majority of all new restaurants fail, but said "the biggest reason for failure is that people are undercapitalized. That's not the problem here."

Connors, the Yankees' vice president for player development, might be the man for the job if he can do for restaurants what he does for baseball players.

"Billy Connors is considered the pitching doctor of baseball," Amodie said. "He brings people back to life."

While Cone was in Tampa, Connors told him about the 5,000-square-foot restaurant that he and Amodie were developing on the corner of St. Petersburg Drive and State Road 580. They planned to serve Florida favorites such as grouper and crab legs. There will be a raw bar with oysters.

"Billy was working with him all week and was going to fly out with him to pitch that Sunday," Amodie said. "Billy told him about the restaurant. David loved the concept. The next day he took him on a tour."

But even before the tour, Cone drove around Oldsmar. Amodie said he liked that it was centrally located and "one of the last remaining waterfront restaurants in Tampa Bay that wasn't gobbled up."

Shortly after, he signed on.

Cone, 37, has a home in nearby Cheval in Lutz. Neither he nor Connors returned telephone calls from the St. Petersburg Times this week.

Amodie, 33, lives a mile or two from the restaurant with his dog, Flea, which he named after the bass player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He used to build tiki huts for a living and met Connors building a hut at Connors' Safety Harbor house about a year ago.

"Billy's Italian-Irish, I'm Italian-Irish. We just clicked," Amodie said. "And we have a common bond through food. We both love to eat."

Amodie discovered the property when it was still Mondo's Munchies, Music & Mayhem, a rock 'n' roll-themed restaurant that seemed out of place so close to Safety Harbor. It was better suited for Ybor City, Amodie thought.

Two weeks later, Mondo's breathed its last, and Amodie swept in.

Earlier this week, Amodie stood on the deck of the restaurant just off the parking lot, a silver mobile phone on his hip ringing continuously. Over the racket of two shirtless construction workers using power saws, he pointed toward the creek, the saltwater marsh just beyond it and the traffic on State Road 580 beyond that.

Moccasin Creek winds its way through Oldsmar and East Lake Woodlands, and by the time it reaches the marsh, its murky water is the color of cafe au lait.

Layers of silt have collected on the bay bottom next to the restaurant, so larger boats can only motor in and out at high tide.

"This is where the tiki hut will go," he said.

With palm fronds providing shade, patrons will be able to have a margarita or a beer as they watch boaters launch from a ramp next to the deck. For now, the building is a mess, gutted to its bare walls, equipment scattered everywhere, the smell of fresh cypress in the air.

The new owners named the restaurant Jack Willie's in tribute to Connors and a man Amodie knew.

"Billy was always called Willie," Amodie said. "And Jack was a waterskier and a surfer. "Jack' gave it a tropical flair."

And what about the Great Restaurant Burial Ground?

"Finally, it's resurrection day at the top of the bay," Amodie said.

- Staff writer Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4229 or at schulte@sptimes.com.

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