Word on the street had it that Lolita’s Wine Market in St. Petersburg was looking for a new home. However, co-owner Kelly Rodriguez wants to put the rumor about the popular gathering place to rest.
Originally, she and her cheffy husband, Alex, were in search of a site for their second Lolita’s. Then everything changed when Hollander and Avalon hotels owner Mike Andon invited them to launch on the ground floor of the Vintin Hotel, which he also owns. They couldn’t turn down the opportunity, but since the Vintin is just blocks away from the flagship Lolita’s location in the Grand Central District, the couple knew they had to switch up their concept.
That’s why Italian fare will drive Sophia’s Cucina + Enoteca at 2349 Central Ave. Aiming to debut in early April, the Rodriguezes, who are profound dog lovers, named the restaurant for their other rescue pup, Sophie.
Like Lola, their sassy rescue who’s the inspiration behind the Lolita’s moniker, Sophie is a golden retriever/Catahoula hound mix.
“It seemed natural to go back to our roots and focus on Italian cuisine, playing on traditional and modern dishes with a twist,” Kelly said, adding that she and Alex owned a similar eatery in Ohio prior to moving to the Sunshine State.
Sophia’s will pair shareable small plates, one them being a four-ounce monkfish piccata, with craft cocktails. The menu is expected to have a significant wine presence, too.
As far as aesthetics go, Kelly says the look of the forthcoming restaurant will be akin to Lolita’s.
“Guests are going to see the community table and some of the drop lighting we use from Lolita’s,” she said, “and the use of bold colors.”
Yellow and blue stripes will accent greenery fixtures scattered around the restaurant. In the main dining room, picturesque backgrounds include a wall made of wood pallets with “Sophia’s” elegantly transcribed adjacent to a vintage black-and-white photo of four women competing in a spaghetti-eating contest.
An indoor-outdoor bar is also in the works, pending approval from the city to install giant sliding glass windows.
“Once we open with the patio and bar, it’ll be 150 seats,” said Kelly, talking over the sound of buzzing electric drills.
On Feb. 1, the couple signed their lease for Sophia’s, which occupies the 3,000-square-foot space where the Vintin’s short-lived restaurant, The Hive, closed last year. Permitting and construction have kept them quite busy.
“It’s funny because people have been calling and asking our staff when we’re moving,” Kelly said. “We’re happy to get the word out that Lolita’s isn’t going anywhere and get them excited about what we are going to have to offer at Sophia’s.”
Offering reservations through OpenTable, Sophia’s will serve dinner beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The restaurant doesn’t plan to feature happy hour to start, but that should come into play as its hours are extended — and the newness wears off.
Guests can look forward to brunch and some late nights with live music in the future.
“We want to open and nail dinner before we expand our offerings,” she said.