The multifaceted concept deemed “Lara,” an ode to her newly-acquired last name, is set to open sometime in 2024.
Although a building for this exciting culinary and hospitality concept has yet to be secured, Suzanne tells Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that Tampa Heights is the ideal neighborhood due to its centralized location.
Lara will offer three unique experiences—a bar, a bazaar full of locally-grown produce, artisan goods and hard-to-find ingredients and supplies for chefs, and an intimate kitchen which Suzanne describes as Lara’s “supporting member.” Suzanne stresses that Lara’s bar won’t draw the typical late night, rowdy crowd one might expect. She tells CL that it will be more of a well-rounded beverage bar inspired by the Greek word “pharmakeia,” which was once used to describe a wide range of elixirs, remedies and apothecaries.
“The focal point of this concept will be the bar—but our whole approach is that we want folks to be stimulated in some way that’s not just intoxication,” Suzanne says. "It will provide an exciting and inclusive place for social drinking anew."
In terms of its brasserie-style kitchen, ingredients offered at its marketplace will often be utilized in its dishes, since sustainable business practices and cross-utilization of products are a core part of Lara’s ethos.
“We want our menu to reflect the seasonality of the market and be as zero waste as possible,” Suzanne tells CL. “We aim to celebrate Florida's vast food diaspora, from West African and Latin to Chinese and Vietnamese culture—we'll pay a little influence to everything that surrounds us.”
Produce from local purveyors like Sweetwater, Brick Street and Meacham Urban Farm will be featured in Lara’s marketplace, in addition to specialty ingredients that any professional or adventurous home chef might want to utilize.
She says Lara will carry bottarga, a hard-to-source, cured fish roe pouch that’s often grated over dishes to give an “umami ocean parmesan” taste.
Suzanne—who just recently turned 40—moved to Tampa when she was 18. She started as a dishwasher at the now-closed Tampa institution Viva La Frida and worked her way up as a cook, stating that the lively restaurant and art gallery “changed her life.”
After a few formative years at Viva la Frida, she helped open Seminole Heights staple Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe and remained its executive chef for a decade before helping Cass Street Deli open in 2019.
During the height of 2020's pandemic, she lead efforts to feed thousands of laid off hospitality workers under Edward Lee Initiative’s Restaurant Workers Relief Program.
With the help of her business partner and friend Jay York— founder of local marketing company Grove Brands—the right investors, and a solid team behind her, Suzanne will finally see her longtime dreams of owning her restaurant come into fruition.
Suzanne has been cutting her teeth in Tampa kitchens for the better part of two decades, and her new bar and market will finally allow her to channel years of experience and technique into a unique culinary and community-focused concept.
“It’s going to be a place where folks will get good value—we don't want to charge anyone for prestige," Suzanne says. "We want to help bridge the gap between fine and casual dining."
For the latest updates on Lara, its buildout, and highly-anticipated opening date, head to laratampa.com or follow its Instagram at @lara.tampa.