Local restaurateurs Chris and Michelle Ponte have started transforming a former South Tampa happy hour spot into their latest restaurant. Lovingly dubbed Olivia, the newcomer is coming along where Carmel Kitchen closed earlier this year at 3601 W. Swann Ave.
“It’s named after our daughter,” Michelle said with a smirk, looking over to check the expression on the face of their oldest son, JT Mahoney.
Olivia is the third restaurant for the Pontes, who are also behind American fusion favorite Cafe Ponte, which opened in a Clearwater strip mall in 2002, and On Swann, a contemporary American joint that debuted in 2016 at Tampa’s Hyde Park Village. Mahoney has joined the team to oversee the financial and business analytics side of Olivia, keeping this culinary venture all in the family.
A mix of northern and southern Italian cuisine is on the menu. Head chef Joesph Walsh left his executive chef position with Bobby Van’s Steakhouse in New York City to assist in the development of dishes prior to Olivia’s launch; Walsh has previously worked under gastronomic masterminds like Daniel Boulud.
Options at Olivia include Neapolitan pizza and a wide range of pasta dishes. But what’s the signature? Well, diners have to weigh in on that.
“From experience, we’ve realized that the guests decide what the signature dishes are,” Chris said, “and we’re looking forward to the community’s reaction.”
The Ponte clan took over the old Carmel space in late August. In preparation for Olivia’s grand opening, scheduled for February 2019, a substantial makeover of the 5,000-square-foot property is underway. The dining room, for instance, will soon feature a glass window that looks into the kitchen, allowing guests to watch the preparation of fresh pasta dough and house-made mozzarella during their meals. What’s more, full-length windows, which are set to replace the front wall of the building, will extend the dining room out to where Carmel’s patio area used to be.
The trio is working with Empad Architecture + Design’s Sean Barber to bring their vision to life, as well as Ken and Kyle Schwartz of SSA to rebuild the kitchen from scratch. The space remains in the early stages of construction.
Michelle, the designer of the fam, envisions a clean, sleek look for Olivia: “Fresh white brick, accented with black and brass, and pops of blue.”
The restaurant has a come-as-you-are vibe planned, too.
“We don’t want guests to feel like they need to fit into our style,” Michelle said. “We want our style to be versatile enough to fit our guests.”
Olivia’s 185 seats will accommodate everything from special occasions to casual dinners. The full bar is sure to make the restaurant an after-work meeting place for cocktails, and there’s also a sommelier on hand to guide diners to their desired selection from the temperature-controlled wine wall.
More than anything, the Pontes hope the family component of the restaurant shines through.
“We want guests to feel that family vibe and see it in the atmosphere with our team and the food we serve,” Mahoney said.