Startup restaurant operator selected for Bradenton Beach pier

Visitors to the pier in Bradenton Beach might ask, “Got food?”

While doors to the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier restaurant remain closed, lease negotiations have begun with Starfish on the Bay.

Two bids were submitted following the August release by the city of a request for proposal. Owners of an operation to be named Starfish on the Bay and owners of the former Fisherman Joe’s submitted bids, which were ranked individually by commissioners and city pier team members. The scores were averaged and presented at a Sept. 17 special commission meeting.

Fisherman Joe’s significantly outscored Starfish on the Bay. Police Chief Sam Speciale, who facilitates the pier team, said Fisherman Joe’s scored higher because of restaurant experience with proven success, while Starfish on the Bay, which has no ties to the Star Fish Co. Restaurant and Market in Cortez, is a relatively new venture.

Speciale said both businesses submitted good business plans and were on equal footing in that area.

However, in the ensuing question-and-answer session with commissioners, Joe McDonald, owner of Fisherman Joe’s in Bradenton, fell short of what some commissioners were seeking in a new tenant.

McDonald’s bid was to pay a higher base rent than what the RFP called for, but he refused to budge on the city’s request to pay 12 percent of the restaurant’s gross profits to the city.

The city asked for a monthly rent of $5,500 plus 12 percent of the profits after the rent obligation is met.

McDonald offered $6,000 a month for the first year and $6,500 a month in the second year with no revenue percentage.

Starfish on the Bay submitted a bid for rent and revenue payments, both equal to the city’s minimum.

Both businesses also submitted bids for the bait kiosk and harbor master’s office, but Commissioner Gay Breuler wanted to know why McDonald did have not have a business plan for the other two operations.

“My idea was opening the restaurant first and concentrate on that for at least 120 days and then work on what we want to do with the rest,” said McDonald. “I didn’t propose what would go in those two buildings, but it would likely be a bait shop and a gift shop.”

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh asked why Fisherman Joe’s would not serve breakfast, and McDonald said expanding to a breakfast menu would depend on the success of lunch and dinner sales.

Vosburgh inquired into McDonald’s business credit and he said he lost a business a couple of years ago, “So I rely on outside investors.”

Vice Mayor Ed Straight asked McDonald if he had any other issues with the RFP, and McDonald said he would likely have an issue with the split of the common-area maintenance fees.

Roland Pena, who proposes to start up Starfish on the Bay, then fielded questions. Pena conceded McDonald’s restaurant experience. He said he understood why he finished second in the rankings, but felt he could offer the city a good product and that his former restaurant performed well.

Pena operated Starfish Cafe, a deli-style operation in the rear of the vitamin store in Holmes Beach for a short time, but it is closed.

When asked about his credit, Pena said it was excellent, but he planned to start the pier restaurant without credit. “Everything I’ll be doing will be cash up front.”

He said his operation will involve military veterans who have a “can-do attitude.” They understand the motivation it takes to succeed in business, he said.

Mayor John Shaughnessy asked commissioners if they wanted to schedule a second meeting for further discussion on the two bids and the ranking process. But commissioners said they were ready to vote.

“After further discussion here, I’m very impressed with Starfish,” said Vosburgh. “I think they have the enthusiasm and ability to work hard and be successful.”

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said after doing his own research, he leaned toward Fisherman Joe’s.

“His downtown Bradenton restaurant has been going strong for 20 years,” said Gatehouse. “People I’ve spoken to who know the operation and his management style told me he’s an excellent operator.”

Gatehouse proposed the city counter McDonald’s offer and waive the revenue payment of 12 percent for the first two years and negotiate a percentage of the profits during the lease renewal.

McDonald did not provide a direct answer.

Breuler said she preferred Starfish on the Bay and had frequented Pena’s deli several times.

“The food and the service were lovely,” she said. “I find the idea of not doing a percentage with Fisherman Joe’s disturbing. Suppose they hold fast to not wanting to pay a percentage after the first two years. Then what? Kick them out and start all over again?”

Straight entered the discussion undecided, but ultimately sided with Starfish on the Bay, agreeing that the lack of percentage being offered was not concrete enough for him to swing his vote in favor of Fisherman Joe’s, “So I lean toward Starfish.”

With an apparent vote standing at 3-1, Shaughnessy said his vote didn’t matter, but said he preferred Fisherman Joe’s.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said the Sept. 17 consensus authorized her to move forward to begin negotiations with Starfish on the Bay.

If those negotiations succeed, Starfish on the Bay will become the new tenant following commission approval of the lease, and could begin setting up the restaurant.

If negotiations are unsuccessful, the city reserves the right to negotiate with Fisherman Joe’s or to begin a new RFP process.

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