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New restaurant, shops set for South Beach

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ (Week of June 19, 2014)
Photo of Anthony DeChellis

Locals know summer means less of a wait for a table at Vero’s restaurants. But the line is already forming for prospective tenants of a new restaurant, retail and office complex proposed for the prime A1A location where a favorite South Beach steakhouse, Charley Brown’s, once stood.

Among the interested parties are national high-end chains, says Anthony DeChellis, a St. Edward’s graduate who went on to become CEO of Credit Suisse’s private bank for the Americas. He resigned last year.

“Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t call me and want an early track on leasing space there. But I’m not committing to anybody yet,” he says. “The ground floor space will include one restaurant most likely, and then anything from a coffee shop to a gourmet cheese shop. And a florist has expressed some interest.“

Upstairs will be professional offices. “With St. Ed’s right up the road, we’ve had doctors expressing interest.”

For a man who grew up in The Moorings when there were more vacant lots than houses, who rode his bike on dirt mounds there and still thrills recalling the “incredible” fishing in the freshly cut canals, DeChellis downplays the footprint of the 14,000-square-foot complex.

The restaurant will be housed on the ground floor of one of two 5,000-square-foot, two-story buildings connected by a 1,500-square-foot courtyard. A third 4,000-square-foot structure will rise over a portico accessing the parking lot, with a second and third floor.

“The last thing we want to do is feel huge,” he says. “We want it to be something that fits into the neighborhood. I would suspect that in the end, four or five businesses will occupy the whole building, and it could be two to three.”

Upstairs will be leased office space.

DeChellis bought the property, just south of the 17th Street Bridge at Turtle Cove Lane, in December 2008 when his father, Carlo, who owned the building housing Johnny D’s restaurant and market across the street, called him in New York to say he ought to act fast if he wanted it.

At the time, DeChellis was two years into a seven-year stint with Credit Suisse. He didn’t have time to deal with his investment. Now, having turned 50, he has declared himself “on sabbatical,” anxious to spend time with his four kids, and develop this Vero property as well as a waterfront lot he has bought on Reef Road in The Moorings. He just gave up his apartment in Zurich, he says, where he spent half the year.

DeChellis is the son of Carlo and Nina DeChellis, who moved the family here from New Jersey in 1974 after investing in a home in The Moorings and in the commercial property across the street from the Charley Brown’s location. There, they had at various times, a liquor store; the Black Pearl restaurant; a coffee roaster and café; and Carlucci’s, a market and restaurant.

They tore down the building post-hurricanes, and rebuilt the space and its neighboring shops. The restaurant and market Johnny D’s, named after their late son, is currently leased to relatives.

After graduating from St. Edward’s, DeChellis studied economics at Rollins College, then earned an MBA at the University of Chicago. He worked in Maryland for many years before moving to New York. He and his children live in Darien, CT, but visit Vero frequently.

While DeChellis’ departure from Credit Suisse is still making headlines in financial news, it comes as a big relief to him. “I’ve decided to take a break,” he says.  “I’ve never had this in my life.”

But with a vacation home here, plus two real estate projects elsewhere, “I’m not going to be completely idle,” he adds.

The site plan just won approval from the city’s Building and Development Board. DeChellis expects full approval by September and hopes the building will be completed a year from then. David Moulton is the architect.

“This is going to be a building with a lot of character,” he says. “This is going to be A-plus-plus.”

Anthony remembers taking dates to Charley Brown’s, and piling up a plate from the salad bar.

“That was a big deal back then,” he says reverently.

Meanwhile, two Vero entrepreneurs, Travis Becker and Lou Kolbauer, caterers known as Wild Thyme who recently opened Chive on Old Dixie Highway, are moving closer to the beachside, into the Royal Palm Pointe space vacated by Amalfi Grill when that restaurant moved to Miracle Mile.

Chive was opened only last October, intended to house the catering business and serve as a take-out place with a few tables for lunch. But it has become so successful that people want to sit down and stay.  With limited seating, it has added an outdoor deck to accommodate the turnout for lunch. Chive’s business is half eat-in, half take-out.

In the new location, with 60 seats, take-out is expected to take a back seat. But the downtown location remains for the time being. “We want to open September 1, but we’re going to keep this going,” he says. “The big debate is whether to change the concept a bit over here. We don’t know if this will stay exactly as it is.”