After a 13-year run in the same location, The Smiling Fish Café is smiling no more.
The café’s owner, George Barnes reports he was unable to reach an agreement with his landlord at Gulf Place on terms of a new lease for his eatery at the corner of County Roads 393 and 30A, and the decision was made that the café will move on to a different locale.
“This is sad because for me, this has been a love story,” said Barnes. “I have been happy to be here 13 years and it has been humbling and flattering to see people come back week after week, and sometimes two or three times a week. I’ll miss it, but will continue somewhere else. I am going to find a new home somewhere.”
A press release announcing the closing was sent out at the end of last week on behalf of the Gulf Place Town Center. The release stated that The Smiling Fish will remain open through the end of the year. Effective Jan. 1, the space occupied by The Smiling Fish and the Naked Grape wine bar will be taken over by a new dining establishment known as La Playa, which will be owned and operated by Joseph Morris, owner of Café Tango, and his sons, Patrick and Andrew.
The Naked Grape, which was operated by the owners of Restaurant Fire, closed this week for remodeling. The Smiling Fish will remain open in its present location through the end of the year.
According to the release, La Playa, which means the beach in Spanish, will feature casual dining along with a menu reflecting the Morris family’s favorite dishes from the Caribbean. The restaurant will offer a full bar with all drinks made from scratch. The wine list will reportedly range from boutique to international.
The new combined space will include more than 80 indoor seats along with the outdoor corner patio dining area that overlooks the Gulf.
“We are excited to announce this great addition to Gulf Place and look forward to something a little different on what we feel is the best corner on 30A,” said Cindy Stenberg, association manager.
Stenberg said the new restaurant owners will freshen up the corner with remodeling and improvements after the first of the year. She expects that La Playa will open by March 1 for lunch and dinner.
Stenberg said she has been told that Barnes enjoyed his best year ever at that corner and it was a very successful year for him.
“We gave him first option and he made the decision to move on. It was a financial decision,” she said.
Barnes agrees that it was a business decision as his rent was going to be increased.
“It was a math problem,” he said. “I would have had to raise my prices. I had my vision for that corner. I set out to make it a neighborhood place. I am humbled by its continued success and look forward to having a new home.”
As for where that new home will be, he is not certain but is pursuing two or three options.
“We are encouraging everyone to go eat with George at The Smiling Fish while he is here,” said Stenberg.