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Deal near on new concessionaire for Seaside Grill

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of May 19, 2022)

Vero Beach officials are negotiating a long-term concession agreement with a Royal Palm Beach-based company to take over the recently shuttered Seaside Grill at Jaycee Park.

City Manager Monte Falls said last week he expects to present the City Council with a ready-to-sign, 30-year deal next month for a new lessor to take over the city-owned facility.

“We want to come back to the council as quickly as possible,” Falls said. “I feel confident we’ll have it done for the June 7 agenda.”

GC Ventures FL – one of seven companies to submit proposals by the city’s March 10 deadline and one of four finalists selected by an evaluation committee composed of Recreation Director Jim O’Connell, Planning Director Jason Jeffries and Finance Director Cindy Lawson – emerged as the panel’s top choice in April.

According to the “executive summary” included in its proposal, the company and its affiliate, GC Ventures, have been in the food and concession business for seven years in Minnesota and one year in Florida.

The companies currently operate the Okee Grill at the Okeeheelee Golf Course in West Palm Beach and are awaiting final approval to take over The Links restaurant at the Boynton Beach Golf Course and the concessions at Oceanfront Park in Boynton Beach.  They also operate restaurants at two golf courses in Minneapolis, as well as a food-truck business in the Minneapolis area.

The proposal states GC Ventures’ partners, Anderson Studebaker and Wylon Wong, have a combined 50 years-plus in the restaurant and bar business.

Falls presented the evaluation committee’s recommendation to the City Council at its May 3 meeting, where council members voted unanimously to authorize him to begin negotiations with the company, which is seeking a 20-year lease with two five-year options.

GC Ventures FL has proposed paying annual rent of $12,000 plus 10 percent of its gross receipts. Falls said the city prefers a rent-only lease, which would eliminate the need for yearly audits.

City records show the previous lease, given to Dan and Rose Culumber in 1992, required rent of $600 per month plus 12 percent of the business’ gross receipts. In the fiscal year that ended in September, the Culumbers made nearly $78,000 in lease payments.

In its bid, GC Ventures FL committed to being open for business within six weeks of signing a lease, Falls said, adding that the company plans to operate a food truck on the premises while renovating and upgrading the 2,500-square-foot facility, which was built in 1957.

Falls said GC Ventures FL’s ability to open earlier than the other finalists was among the factors considered by the evaluation committee.

“Any renovations will be done at their expense,” he added, “unless we find a major defect in the building, which we don’t expect to happen.”

In his letter to the city, Studebaker wrote that his company would embrace the “same philosophy” as the Culumbers, longtime island residents who operated the iconic, oceanfront eatery for 30 years before retiring last month.

Studebaker’s proposal states that, once the lease is signed, GC Ventures FL will immediately begin renovating the restaurant – providing a more comfortable setting for customers and upgrading kitchen equipment.

Their goal is to change the décor to give the place the feel of a “beach-style restaurant,” the proposal states, by adding bright colors to accent the building’s natural wood.

“Outdoor seating would be changed from the concrete tables and chairs to more comfortable seating,” the proposal continues, and new tables will better fit the new design of the indoor dining area. The company also will consider painting the building’s exterior walls.

In addition, Studebaker plans to expand both breakfast and lunch menus.

In its request for proposals, the city stated its desire for the restaurant to be open during same hours as Jaycee Park, which would be from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and GC Ventures FL included those hours in its bid.

However, Falls said the city planned to require that the restaurant be open for breakfast and lunch, “and possibly for an evening meal, but not too late.”

The Culumbers operated the restaurant from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.

Studebaker wrote that, under his management, the restaurant also would sell sunscreen, sunglasses and other sundries beachgoers and park visitors might’ve forgotten to bring with them.

“We feel that we will add new life to the park and beach, as we’re always watching and implementing innovations in the restaurant industry,” the GC Ventures FL proposal states.

“From the food to beverages, there are trends that change from time to time, and we stay on top of them, while also catering to the locals to make sure they are getting what they want.”

The evaluation committee ranked GC Ventures FL first among the bidders based on qualifications, technical operations (menu, staffing, marketing and plans to upgrade the premises) and proposed lease terms.

After ranking the seven companies that submitted proposals, the committee invited the four finalists to make oral presentations. Only three showed up: GC Ventures FL, the Fellsmere-based M&M Florida Juice Company, and the Stuart-based Oceanside Restaurant Group, which operates seven Mulligan’s Beach House restaurants between Sebastian and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

It was George Hart’s Oceanside group that pitched the most intriguing plan, offering to build a new $5 million, 5,000-square-foot, two-story restaurant that would be marketed as a “world-class destination with upscale dining.”

“The Vero Beach Grille & Oyster Bar,” as it was called in the proposal, would be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week – and until 11 p.m. on weekends – offering a full liquor bar and featuring live music.

The restaurant would employ a “five-star chef” who would prepare “high-quality seafood and steaks” served in a “rustic modern setting surrounded by highlights of the history of Vero Beach,” the Oceanside proposal stated.

The evaluation committee, however, decided a restaurant of that stature and magnitude might be a better fit as part of the proposed development of the city’s so-called Three Corners site.