Popular Villages restauranteur’s new steakhouse opening soon in Lake Sumter Landing

The finishing touches are being put on a new Lake Sumter Landing restaurant with a goal of taking elegance to new level in The Villages.

The Chop House at Lake Sumter, located next to Barnes & Noble, is scheduled to open in late July or early August and will feature a variety of prime steak choices, as well as a robust menu offering seafood, pasta and pork chops, among other dishes. And a full-service bar in the back of the restaurant will offer a variety of drink choices, as well as craft cocktails that are being developed prior to the grand opening.

Chop House General Manager Michael Dillenburg is quite busy hiring employees to staff the new restaurant that will open in Lake Sumter Landing at the end of July or the beginning of August.

“I’m excited to see it open,” said the eatery’s owner, well-known Villages restauranteur Fred Karimipour, of FMK Restaurant Group.

“It’s an elegant restaurant and it will have a great menu. I’m excited for my team because they worked really hard to deliver this concept,” added Karimipour, who opened Bluefin Grill & Bar in Brownwood this past September and also owns Evans Prairie Country Club, Belle Glade Country Club, Bonifay Country Club, Orange Blossom Hills Country Club and Scooples Ice Cream Parlor.

General Manager Michael Dillenburg, who also helped open Bluefin, said he’s excited because the new restaurant will be much different from others in The Villages.

“This is really going to blow it out of the water. And everybody’s really excited,” he said. “We’re going to offer the best steaks that we can possibly get.”

Chop House General Manager Michael Dillenburg stands behind the new restaurant at Lake Sumter, which will offer an outdoor bar and seating.

But Dillenburg quickly added that the Chop House shouldn’t just be thought of as a steakhouse, because it also will a varied menu that includes seafood, pasta and pork chops, among other dishes.

“We want everybody to be able to come and enjoy their meals,” he said. “And it doesn’t necessarily have to be steak.”

Dillenburg said he’s aware that three prior restaurants in the location – Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar, Honest John’s Whiskey and Provisions and TGI Fridays – all ended up closing their doors.

“Ultimately, I don’t feel the location had a whole lot to do with it,” he said of the failed ventures. “Granted, it’s not on the square. But that’s not necessary.”

General Manager Michael Dillenburg says the most important things he looks for when hiring are genuine people who have the right attitude.

Dillenburg said it’s important to note that all three of the failed restaurants offered menus based largely around burgers and chicken wings. He said Cody’s Original Roadhouse and RJ Gator’s offer the same items in Lake Sumter Landing, while nearby Johnny Rockets specializes in burgers.

“It was oversaturated with the same kind of concept,” he said. “We want to be different. We want folks to know that we are actually listening to the people that come into our restaurants and we’re going to provide exactly what they want. Ultimately they’re giving us the answers and we’re listening.”

Dillenburg said he’s also aware that Villagers had complained of the noise levels in the three failed restaurants.

“The noise was a big thing,” he said. “Ultimately if you looked at it, there was polished concrete throughout the entire thing and it was wide open. You had a giant bar and usually a bar atmosphere is always going to be a little bit louder,” he said of the Guy Fieri eatery.

Michael Dillenburg, left, talks with busser Ian Plunkett during the ‘Friends and Family’ event at Bluefin Grill & Bar last September.

Dillenburg said Karimipour and the design team that worked on the Chop House took all of the noise issues into account and came up with several ways to fix the problem – carpet; padded, high-back booths; draperies and barrel lighting, to name a few.

“It’s not about one change for this restaurant,” he said. “It’s about the million tiny little things that people had to think about to get it to work the way we envision it to work.”

While Dillenburg has been handling a variety of details and will continue to do until the Chop House opens, he said one the most important is the hiring process.
He pointed out that he conducted close to 350 interviews at Bluefin to find the 100 people needed to make that restaurant a success. And he vowed to do the same thing to make the Chop House a restaurant Villagers will want to visit time and again.

“My best effort is to make sure that we find a team that is surrounded by like-minded, good-hearted people,” he said. “Because if you get an entire group like that working toward one main goal, it makes it very easy to do what we’re doing.”

Dillenburg said he tell prospective employees that he wants guests at the Chop House to have an unforgettable experience and an emotional connection with the staff taking care of them.

“Hospitality is giving for the sake of giving rather than receiving,” he said. “And those guests need to know that they’re truly important to us.”

Michael Dillenburg, manager of the Chop House Restaurant, shows the area that will house the outdoor bar and additional seating options.

In fact, Dillenburg added, it’s all about treating every guest the way he or she wants to be treated.

“At the end of their experience, they’re going to walk out and say one of two things,” Dillenburg said. “They’re going to say, ‘I can’t believe I spent that much money.’ Or they’re going to say, ‘I can’t believe I had that great of an experience and I only spent that much money.’”

As for his own excitement level, Dillenburg said it’s off the charts.

“When I walked into this place I was literally at a loss for words,” he said. “This is something special. I feel like this is going to be the next favorite in The Villages.”

Bluefin server Jeff Montgomery, Michael Dillenburg and FMK Restaurant Group Culinary Director Jason Sofka.