Souzou was the sleekest classroom in town Tuesday. The upscale Asian fusion restaurant on the bottom floor of a new office building at 435 5th Ave. N in St. Petersburg has set June 22 as the date for its soft opening.
Training is underway. New hires filtered in as it approached noon, greeted heartily by their supervisors. They gathered classroom-style in the dining rooms to study menus, listen to presentations and get to know each other. They took tours. At one point, more than 30 staff members were going through the paces.
Souzou is the brainchild of St. Petersburg businessman Patrick Marston, a rookie restaurateur who from the outset was fully aware of how little he knew about the industry. That led him to Mike Harting, whose ownership of nearby 3 Daughters Brewing, previous stint at BellaBrava and long tenure at Outback Steakhouse made him an ideal partner.
Harting strolled into the restaurant at the appointed 1 p.m., wearing a 3 Daughters “Beach Blonde Ale” T-shirt.
Souzou is his first restaurant endeavor since parting ways with BellaBrava two years ago. Harting estimates he had 15 to 20 opportunities to get back in the food biz, and passed on all of them.
Marston is an investor in 3 Daughters, so had an in, but he was an unproven commodity. Nevertheless, it didn’t take Harting long to sign on to the Souzou project.
“Patrick’s approach was very business-minded,” Harting said. “There was a commonality of ideas with Patrick that was immediately obvious. He has a desire to build something bigger than the bottom line.”
Harting brings exacting standards from his career as an operations guru. For instance: Although Souzou is a classy sit-down eatery, a strict service protocol is in effect: two minutes for salads, six minutes for appetizers, 12 minutes for entrees.
Harting has brought trusted associates into the operation, among them Julie Parrish, Souzou’s general manager, and Chef Ty Weaver, who is also the master brewer at 3 Daughters. Could there one day be a slew of Souzous?
“We’re going to see how much fun we have with this one,” Harting said. “But we built it to be duplicated. Everything we do is measured, weighted, recorded and written down. That was done by design — to be replicable.”