The Rack has grown up, and so have its owners. That’s how wife-and-husband team Christy and Seth Ronchetti explain the rebrand of their Brandon sushi bar and billiards lounge, which debuted as S Bar on June 11.
An extension of their personalities and more of a restaurant than a bar, the new concept has carried over aspects of its former identity that fans of The Rack will appreciate, and it’s also done away with others, including all-you-can-drink specials. This change might disappoint some people at first, but daily deals on drinks are still showcased — just not in the sink-or-swim vein.
“S Bar won’t be that kinda place, and I think that’s because S Bar has evolved with us and our age,” Christy said. “Back in the day, The Rack did have all-you-can-drink, and it was more like a club environment. We’re older now, and we’ve been in the business for a while. There’s only so many times you wanna mop up puke at the end of the night, to be quite honest, and break up bar fights. We just don’t wanna do that anymore.”
According to Seth, who says he bought into The Rack as an investment, they got to the point where they weren’t happy with the business.
“We ended up buying the entire [brand], with the plan of someday doing our own thing. That day finally came, and we were just excited to put our plan out there and what we love to do and how we love to run the restaurant. We’re excited for everyone else to come see it,” he said.
Since The Rack, launched at 1025 W. Brandon Blvd. in 2010, closed its doors for renovations (its Hyde Park counterpart shuttered in 2013), rebranding was always a part of the plan. But the business partners — whose big building (seriously, it’s 10,000 or so square feet) has been revamped with everything from a new deck and roof to the updated lounge and tabletop shuffleboard areas, where The Rack’s billiards used to be — have admittedly taken their time to reopen.
And why not? Developing the indoor-outdoor S Bar, which features 150 seats inside and 36 out on the patio, at their own pace allowed them to get creative with the restaurant’s main components: a speakeasy-style bar, Southern bistro menu and, of course, sushi. With so many S’s going on — their something-for-everyone mantra is proudly displayed above the entrance, and there are more S’s where that came from — the name S Bar came together serendipitously.
“The Rack was a little bit all over the place, and we wanted to put together a concept that was unique but also made sense. We always knew in the past we wanted The Rack to be something for everyone, that was already a tagline we used, and it just fit perfectly,” Christy said.
Seth added: “Everything seems similar out here. We just kinda got the sense of been there, done that, so that’s just kinda what we focused on. We wanted to shake it up and do something new, have something new to offer.”
Led by innovative executive chef Gia Tran, the award-winning sushi selection hasn’t changed much. Tran, who’s got a background in sushi, tweaked and improved The Rack’s old lineup, and it’s even easier to navigate, as the rolls are divided into categories based on their protein. Popular orders like the Flaming Lori (shrimp and crab mix, asparagus, avocado, cream cheese, tilapia, herb aioli, sweet Thai chili sauce) remain, alongside additions like Spice Spice Baby (tempura shrimp, avocado, cucumber, jalapeno, spicy mayo, spicy tuna).
“We’ve got plenty of new things for them, but still some of the old favorites that they’ve been coming in for years for as well,” Seth said.
On the Southern side, the food is based on what Christy grew up eating, and cooking at a young age, in southern Ohio, where meat and potatoes and garden-fresh ingredients were part of her diet. Patrons can choose from a variety of down-home items — pecan-crusted bourbon maple salmon and her grandmother’s grilled meatloaf, served with lumpy country-style mashed potatoes and gravy, among them.
Although she’s working with chef Tran to roll out dishes little by little, that part of the S Bar menu, a combination of healthy and indulgent, will stay small.
“We’re trying to add things to our menu that, if you had a big Southern garden, you would go out and pick and bring into the house,” she said.
The rustic, cozy full-liquor bar that carries a 1920s and ’30s vibe is separated from the brighter, sleek main dining area and sushi bar (plus the lounge and shuffleboard room, which provide their own kind of atmosphere), yet the spacious hangout maintains a synergy with the rest of the space. There’s a rotating cast of craft beer, stuff from local breweries included, alongside a loaded cocktail list broken into three sections: Prohibition-era, specialty and “Party Down South,” with classic sippers from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast.
Despite their restaurant’s multiple elements, the Ronchettis believe S Bar has a solid identity. Now, they feel at home.
“A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Kind of an odd mixture, we know. But so far it’s working, and we like it,” Christy said. “We feel like that’s what’s most important. Doing something you like and putting out a product that you love, even if it seems like a strange pairing.”
Future features of the neighborhood newcomer include transforming an unused area up front near the patio into a dog park, essentially a mulched, fenced-in yard with benches to accommodate pets visiting S Bar; an outdoor room that spotlights farmhouse-style communal tables and hanging light fixtures for private events; and a more traditional speakeasy, also meant for event bookings, with room for about 26 people, its own private entrance and an expected completion of November.
The couple’s goal is to offer a place with quality food and drinks for Brandon-area residents looking to have a good time with friends and family, or celebrate special occasions — that way, as Christy puts it, they don’t feel like they have to drive to Tampa or Clearwater.
“There’s a lot of good places around here to eat that I feel like are understated,” she said. “And I want [Brandon] to know that you don’t have to go halfway across the bay to find a good place to go out to eat, to have a good time.”