Back when Station House owner Steve Gianfilippo said his purpose is to continue raising the bar in St. Petersburg, with a few tricks up his sleeve, how many people thought Ichicoro Ramen would be one of them? Something tells me, however, loyal followers of the 2-year-old Seminole Heights restaurant's #RamenArmy ain't mad.
After months of speculation, Ichicoro announced it is indeed taking over the 6,000-square-foot space vacated by the original Station House restaurant, which closed late last year in the space previously occupied by Cafe Alma at 260 First Ave. S. This is where Ichicoro Ane — the fourth member of Tampa-born ramen-ya's growing family — has started to come to life.
The anticipated Ane joins Ichicoro Imoto ("little sister"), opened at Pizitz Food Hall in Birmingham, Alabama, in February, as well as the second Imoto location set for The Heights Public Market in Tampa Heights. Here are five things to know about the new downtown St. Pete dining spot.
1) Expanded food, drinks and service.
Ane may be the youngest in this restaurant fam, but its name means "older sister," a reference to what diners can expect from the food, drinks and service. According to Ichicoro chef-partner Noel Cruz, the restaurant is the next sophisticated step in what he, partner Robert Vergara, managing partner Kerem Koca, co-chef Branden Lenz and the rest of the crew are doing.
"It's the kind of place where you can come in by yourself and grab a snack and a drink, go on a date, or come here with a group and celebrate whatever," Cruz said. "Take the whole dining room if you want."
While the menu is still in development, some of the items they're playing around with have been featured as specials over the last six to eight months at Ramen. Ane also has the added bonus of full liquor, which means the beverage program will showcase Ichicoro's pioneering sensibilities.
2) You'll never feel alone.
Triple the size of the flagship with 140 or so seats, Ane is separated into four "experiences" — among them a small ramen shop serving walk-ins, very similar to what goes down in Seminole Heights. These slatted-wall divisions allow patrons to take in the restaurant's multilayered atmosphere, no matter which area suits their fancy.
"There's a big reason why we created the different rooms, if you will. We wanted to make sure that at any given point in such a large space, no matter how busy or how quiet it is, you never feel alone," the chef said.
The main dining room, another key element, is where they plan to push the boundaries of creativity. A bigger kitchen with more toys and tools gives them the ability to flex with an extended snack selection.
"It's not just gonna be small plates," Cruz told CL. "There will be a sprinkling of maybe larger shareable things, and we're gonna play along as it evolves."
Then there's the main bar, which diners spill into after they're greeted by the hostess. It's an energetic centerpiece — flanked by standing tables meant for eating and drinking, whether you're popping in on a whim or waiting for a table — featuring more seating than the original Station House bar.
And remember GWR? The dimly lit hangout is transforming into a larger, seated sipping lounge. Sporting an identity all its own, this portion of Ane offers a more subtle experience, plus a small bar with high-end spirits to choose from. What's particularly neat: Once the lounge is at capacity, the only way the next party can enter is if another party leaves.
"We want to really control that. It's not about turning and burning. It's about sitting there, really enjoying the evening for however long you want to spend," Cruz said. "We're not trying to get you in and out, unlike the more traditional ramen experience where it's you're in, you eat the bowl in 10, 15, 20 minutes, and then, all right — you move on."
3) Same vibe, different space.
St. Pete always seemed like a natural progression for Ichicoro; Cruz says they started actively looking there after the dust settled at Ramen. They knew downtown was rapidly growing in terms of both the demographic and food scene, but they didn't know when, or which space would best speak to Ane. Station House, turns out, is a playground for the "big guns" (read: the friends and design team) they've recruited from New York for the project.
"That's part of why we're all into this," he said. "We love the artistry of design and use of space, creating different moods and atmospheres with music and lighting and ambiance. I think we'll really get to show all that."
Ane aims to carry over elements from the Seminole Heights outpost, including its urban quality and lighting that frames the mood, yet there's an elevated look to the newcomer as well. For instance, they picked furniture with lots of different finishes that are somewhat higher-end and have more visual impact.
Moving the restaurant entrance, which used to be down a flight of steps at the side of the mixed-used Station House, was also a big initial decision. The entry will now shift to the front of the building to create harmonic traffic flow between the property's five floors and give Ane a street presence as patrons enter off First Avenue South.
"We still want the same vibe and energy as Seminole Heights, but we also want to create a new tone for the other dining and drinking experiences," Cruz said.
4) More culinary events.
On that note, there's a DJ booth for the nights that call for it, as well as two brunch parties in store for Saturdays and Sundays.
The private dining room isn't going away, either. In addition to accommodating large groups and private parties, it'll allow Ichicoro to host more culinary events with one-off, course-style tasting menus, which is different from anything they've ever done.
Cruz foresees using the rooftop area for private events with his cheffy pals from all over, too — maybe even other parts of Station House (the co-work space, for one, has a little bar).
5. When's the opening?
"It will be this fall-ish. In a perfect world, hopefully a little prior to that, but no set date. We need to hold onto that until more physical action is taking place," Cruz said.
Although the permitting process has taken a bit longer than anticipated (it always does, don't it?), Ane is under construction, properly permitted and in the final stages of development, concept wise. They're in a good place.
As far as the city's growth goes, the chef says he's worried about infrastructure, such as transportation and parking, more than an overabundance of restaurants.
"I'm not extremely worried about too much saturation, because I think we're just hitting this culinary lane," he said. "So many people understand and love good food and drinks that I think there's a lot of room for everyone."