Fresh seafood – welcome to Brownwood!
After a long-awaited arrival, The Villages’ newest restaurant is opening its doors Monday. Bluefin Grill & Bar will welcome customers beginning at 11 a.m. into the newly decorated restaurant that boasts a chic and contemporary décor, highlighted by a sophisticated color palette of teal, silver and gray.
A variety of seating options await guests, from tables to booths to high-tops to the bar and patio. And a menu featuring entrees ranging from unique seafood dishes to specialty steaks, porkchops, chicken, salads, burgers and sandwiches is available, not to mention nine shareable appetizers, four desserts and plenty of wines and specialty drinks.
“We’re excited,” said Fred Karimipour, owner of Fresh Market Kitchen Restaurant Group, which includes Bluefin among its Villages locations. “I have an amazing team. Some of them have been with me their entire careers, so we’ve all played ball together for many years.”
Karimipour and his staff spent the weekend getting ready for the grand opening by holding two “Friends and Family” events for invited guests. Friday night saw a crowd laughing and having fun on the restaurant’s patio while enjoying shrimp and Sweet Sticky Ribs, while inside the busy facility, servers stayed on their toes making sure customers were enjoying their dining experience.
Saturday night brought much of the same, and hugs were aplenty as Karimipour and his management team floated from table to table to make sure the invited guests were getting everything Bluefin has promised and more.
“We received many positive comments and reviews,” Karimipour said while hustling across the restaurant. “They tell us they’ve never seen anything like it. It’s really very refreshing, so bright and colorful with a very clean look.”
Jon McNeely, FMK Restaurant Group’s director of operations, said he’s thrilled to see Bluefin, which will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, located in Brownwood, which he called The Villages’ up-and-coming square.
“There’s a lot of restaurants here, but our concept is a little different,” he said. “We’re focusing on seafood and we’re more ‘polished casual,’ which I really like.”
McNeely also was quick to point out that every single person working at Bluefin understands an important concept – it’s all about the people.
“Obviously you have to have good food, but if we have good food and we don’t take care of the people – our guests and our employees – it’s not going to be successful,” he said. “So first and foremost, we’re going to focus on the guests coming into the restaurant and our staff.”
General Manager Michael Dillenburg agreed.
“When you say you’re in the restaurant business, the misconception is that we’re in the food and beverage industry,” he said. “We’re in the people industry.”
Dillenburg said that thought drove everyone involved in the hiring process as they painstakingly selected the restaurant’s new staff.
“We wanted those genuine personalities,” he said. “That’s something that we can’t teach. We have a great training program but we can’t teach people to be genuine. That’s something they have or they don’t.”
Dillenburg said it was important to hire a high-energy staff that’s excited to come to work on a daily basis. He said he realized that that goal had been accomplished during a recent orientation session.
“We had people clapping. We had people standing up and cheering,” he said. “I’ve done orientations before, but I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like this. It was almost like everybody was so anxious to be a part of this.”
Not surprisingly, Dillenburg added, that excitement level extends to Villagers and other area residents who have anticipated the opening of a completely new restaurant in the location at 2738 Brownwood Blvd. that once housed Las Tapas and Bavarian Brewhaus.
“We’ve had people stopping in every single day and thanking us for coming up with something they haven’t been able to have for a long time,” he said. “They’re very anxious to come in and try it.”
That was certainly the case this past weekend as customers sampled a variety of dishes on a menu that was put together by Jason Sofka, FMK Restaurant Group’s director of culinary, and his team of veteran chefs and restaurant personnel.
“The shrimp and scallops were amazing,” said Sue Senicka, a Village of LaBelle North resident. “Fresh seafood – we really need that here.”
Senicka’s brother, retired firefighter Glenn Statdman, agreed, but added that he wasn’t surprised in the least.
“Whatever Fred does is excellent,” he said of Karimipour, who also owns Evans Prairie Country Club, Belle Glade Country Club, Bonifay Country Club, Orange Blossom Hills Country Club and Scooples Ice Cream Parlor.
As for the need for a restaurant that specializes in seafood, Statdman said Bluefin’s arrival is welcomed.
“It’s the only place that I know of, especially at the square here, where you can actually have a true fish menu,” he said. “There’s other places that have fish, but I have never seen swordfish on another menu.”
Sherri and Ed Huet, of the Village of LaBelle North, expressed similar feelings after trying the Coconut Haddock and the Herb Roasted Pork Chop.
“Oh, it was wonderful,” Sherri said. “The service and the food were phenomenal.”
“It’s a step above everything in The Villages, anywhere around here,” Ed added. “I’ve already made plans to come back Monday.”
Those sentiments quickly brought a smile to Karimipour’s face. Bluefin marks the 45th restaurant he’s opened, and he said he can’t imagine it being anywhere other than The Villages.
“I love that my guests and neighbors are nearby and I get to see them everywhere I go,” he said. “And I really love serving this community.”