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Date of Issue: October 07, 2009

Gulf Drive Cafe site work begins

Jeff Higgins of Gulf Drive Cafe and Tiki shows an artist’s rendering of the restaurant expansion. Higgins will serve as co-manager of the tiki bar when it opens next year.

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Site work takes place just south of the Gulf Drive Cafe and Tiki, where the restaurant owners plan an expansion that includes outdoor amenities. Last week, a crew Seminole Tiki Huts ripped up concrete at the site to prepare for the construction of a tiki hut. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff

“Those can’t be telephone poles,” Rich Holcomb asserted, watching a construction crew plant a pole in the ground south of the Gulf Drive Cafe.

Nearby, a half dozen other cypress wood poles were piled on the ground.

No, not telephone poles, but signs of construction for the restaurant, 900 Gulf Drive N., which has embarked on a major expansion project.

The cafe, owned by George and Wendy Kokolis, plans a $500,000 expansion that includes a new parking lot, chickee hut, tiki bar and gift shop.

An artist’s rendering of the improvements show the existing restaurant at the north end of the site, then, moving south, a gift shop, Bamboo Jack’s Tiki Bar and Grill, and on the south end of the property, a chickee hut.

On its Web site, the restaurant already is christened Gulf Drive Cafe and Tiki and is promoting its amenities for large gatherings, such as wedding receptions.

The city commission, with a number of stipulations, approved a preliminary design for the restaurant last summer.

That vote followed a recommendation from the city’s planning and zoning board, which, when reviewing a preliminary design, focused on the chickee hut.

“Chickee” or “chiki” is the Seminole word for house and the structures are considered by many Florida engineers to be among the simplest but most durable in hurricane-force winds.

A part of Native American tradition and culture, chickee huts built by members of the Seminole or Miccosukee tribes of Florida are exempt from the permitting process, though rules such as setbacks do apply. State and federal policies define a chickee hut as an open-sided wooden hut with a thatched roof of palm or palmetto or other traditional materials, devoid of electric, plumbing or other non-wood features and constructed by the Miccosukee or Seminole tribe.

The restaurant’s chickee hut will be used for special events, such as wedding receptions or group lunches.

The commission, in its preliminary approval, stipulated that the chickee hut would not be supplied with electricity or water and that no food or drink service would take place in the hut, with exceptions for private or permitted events.

In the year since the commission approval, the owners have sought a series of permits at the state and local level for the project, and a few hurdles remain.

Jeff Higgins, who will co-manage the tiki bar with Michael National, said current working taking place is under a demolition permit to remove the concrete slab where Trader Jack’s restaurant once stood.

“We got that, and then we got going,” said Higgins, who hopes the bar can be opened by February.

At the site last week, passersby watched construction workers with Seminole Tiki Huts erect the poles for the tiki bar and shared an excitement for the new project.

“I think this might be the next new big thing on the Island,” said Bradenton resident Joe Craemer. “What a fantastic idea. And what a great place to kick-back after work.”

“Or all day Sunday, for that matter,” said wife Tammy Craemer.