By Bill DeYoung
Two years ago, Sarasota buddies Joe Seidensticker and Brett Decklever – a restauranteur and a real estate developer – came up with a unique business concept.
They created Oak & Stone, an upscale restaurant-slash-tavern serving artisanal pizza, gourmet burgers and other such fare, and – here’s the envelope-pushing part – a self-serve “beer wall” with more than 50 taps. Customers (21 and older) can pay for a wristband which allows them to sample, through an embedded RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip, an astonishing variety of craft beers, many of them locally brewed. The tap system – always attended by tavern staff – cuts them off when the pre-payment runs out.
This week, Seidensticker and Decklever are celebrating their success by opening a second Oak & Stone, at 199 Central Ave. in St. Pete.
For Seidensticker, the CEO of Tableseide Restaurant Group (owners of numerous Sarasota eateries including Libby’s Cafe & Bar, Louie’s Modern and Muse at The Ringling), St. Pete was the logical choice for Oak & Stone’s first baby steps into expansion-land.
“It used to always be Tampa, it used to be Orlando, blah blah blah,” says the 30-ish restaurant chief, “but for me, it was always St. Pete. Because I’m a young guy that still likes to go and do stuff, and St. Pete was the spot for me. I’ve spent a lot of time in St. Pete; I love the city.”
He and his friends gravitate to St. Pete, he says, “because it’s still a young city. St. Pete hasn’t hit its stride yet. I think it’s got so much more to come.”
And it almost didn’t happen. After an extensive real estate search, he and Decklever couldn’t find what they were looking for. They needed a room of a certain size – “to serve the brand” – and they were adamant it had to be downtown, the center of the St. Pete universe.
Eventually, they gave up and started looking elsewhere. “We probably had expectations that weren’t realistic, let’s put it that way,” laughs Seidensticker.
In mid 2017, Seidensticker learned that the Kolter Group, the real estate developer responsible for the 41-story One St. Petersburg building, was opening its Hyatt Place Hotel on 2nd Street. A friend told the young entrepreneur that Kolter was looking for a tenant to lease a street-level anchor space on the block.
Seidensticker: “He said ‘It’s 6,000 square feet on Central and Second.’ And I said ‘Are you kidding me? What’s the catch?’”
There was no catch. The terms were fair, the lease was signed, and Joe Seidensticker couldn’t be happier. “That corner,” he says, “it just screams ‘downtown St. Pete.’”
After a soft opening last week, Oak & Stone will be officially open for business as of Monday, July 9 at 11 a.m. There’s an invitation-only grand opening event at 5:30 p.m., but by 7:30, Oak & Stone will belong to St. Petersburg.
Along with the beer wall (62 taps and counting), there’s a full bar. And an open kitchen. And a lot of well-positioned TVs. And an open-air deck. The dining room seats up to 300.
Seidensticker stresses that Oak & Stone is “not just a pizzeria with beer” – the menu includes dozens of millennial delights, from Stone Fired Meatloaf with a Guinness gravy to Oak Bowls with a base of sesame kale or quinoa pilaf topped with Tuna Poke, Buffalo Chicken or Vegetables.
Seidensticker’s friends, family and business advisors have told him, since the beginning, to decide on his demographic, and focus squarely on them.
But he and Decklever want “the whole demographic,” he says. One of the restaurant’s marketing taglines declares it “suitable for a boys’ night, a date night and a family dinner.”
“We want it to be approachable. We want it to be family-friendly, but we want it to be a place where people would come at night and have too many cocktails. You know what I mean – a fun place as well.”