Via Mark Parker, St. Pete Catalyst
The ownership group behind Forbici Modern Italian has announced plans to bring a unique concept to a reimagined Sundial plaza in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg.
The South Tampa staple has amassed a loyal following from its first location in Hyde Park Village. Jeff Gigante, co-founder of Next Level Brands, believes Forbici can help revitalize the “underperforming” shopping, dining and entertainment complex adjacent to St. Pete’s bustling Beach Drive.
Gigante said the design process is underway for an indoor-outdoor facility that will encompass 10,000 square feet. He expects it to open in Locale Market’s former space by spring 2024.
“There’s nothing like this restaurant in all of St. Pete,” Gigante said.
He elaborated that Forbici would feature live music “seven days a week,” a welcoming atmosphere and modern Italian fare with a pizza emphasis in a “neighborhood-type restaurant.” While born in New Jersey, the restaurateur was raised in St. Pete and called it his hometown.
He now lives in Tampa and formed Next Level Brands with real estate executive Andrew Wright and attorney Joseph Guggino. The group also owns Union New American in Tampa’s Westshore District and Boulon Brasserie in the Water Street development.
Wright is also the CEO and co-founder of Franklin Street and Ally Capital Group – which owns the Sundial in partnership with Paradise Ventures. The two groups bought the 85,357-square-foot complex for $21.13 million in February 2022 from local businessman Bill Edwards.
While Edwards invested heavily into transforming the once-dilapidated BayWalk plaza into an upscale attraction, Gigante said there is room for improvement.
“You know that has always underperformed, underserved and under-executed,” he said. “I really believe that Andrew (Wright) with Ally Capital and Mike Connor of Paradise Ventures are going to put in the right tenancy, the right improvements, the right infrastructure … to make that thing thrive.”
Gigante is no stranger to the local culinary scene. In the mid-1990s, he co-founded the Ciccio Restaurant Group with chef Luis Flores.
The two opened multiple restaurants in St. Pete before Gigante exited in 2018. He then launched Forbici and Next Level Brands.
Gigante said the Sundial’s new owners plan to incorporate aspects of Hyde Park Village that made it a regional destination. He expressed shock that the Sundial has not capitalized on the “white hotness” of Beach Drive and the amenities lining the corridor.
“I believe it’s just ripe and ready,” Gigante added. “And with the right operators and execution, and infrastructure and depth, I think it’s going to absolutely crush.”
Like Hyde Park, he expects the Sundial to become a place “see and be seen.” Forbici will occupy 7,000 square feet indoors and offer an outdoor bar and covered patio comprising about 3,000 square feet.
Gigante said Montreal-based Atelier Zebulon Perron, the firm behind Boulon Brasserie’s motif, would design St. Pete’s Forbici. He explained that it would “honor” the original location’s design while creating something “more organized and meaningful.”
“We want to really build a prototype to scale,” Gigante said. “Because we’re hoping that if Forbici St. Pete does what Tampa has been doing, we believe that it can spread out regionally and grow throughout the state and the Southeastern United States.”
He said the restaurant would lean into the takeout, delivery and catering business that helped the Hyde Park location thrive during the pandemic. However, the concept’s focal point is an expansive center bar in the Sundial’s reimagined courtyard.
Gigante plans to utilize touchscreens that allow people to order and receive food from any restaurant while enjoying live music or watching sports from the outdoor bar. He called that “an amazing amenity” for guests who want to relish the courtyard’s “vibe” while enjoying fish from Sea Salt, a steak from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse or cup-and-char pepperoni pizza from Forbici.