Bodega restaurant expanding into Seminole Heights

Bodega means grocery in Spanish. But the eatery of the same name, in St. Petersburg’s Edge District, has built a reputation for Latin Street Food -- particularly the Cuban sandwich, along with juices and smoothies made with fresh ingredients.

Since it opened five years ago as a small neighborhood restaurant at 1120 Central Ave., the Edge District has grown into a bustling area. Now Bodega is planning a second location opening later this spring at 5901 N. Florida Ave. in Tampa’s Seminole Heights.

“In order to build a second Bodega, it kind of had to look a certain way,” says Debbie Sayegh, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband George. “When we pulled up to this location, we knew. We said ‘OK, this is perfect.’ It kind of all went rather smoothly after that.”

Bodega was a great fit for Seminole Heights because of the diversity of the neighborhood with craftsman houses and lots of character. “We love Seminole Heights,” she says. “It reminds us a little bit of New York.”

Bodega’s new Seminole Heights location will feature the same menu and indoor and outdoor courtyard seating, two shuffle board courts, and a rum bar, Mandarin Heights, run in collaboration with St. Petersburg’s Mandarin Hide.

“It’s going to stay the same menu,” says Sayegh. “We’ve learned to leave things as they are to make everybody happy.”

She and her husband, both New Yorkers, had been looking around for a suitable location for a second restaurant since the third year Bodega was in operation.

George, who trained at the French Culinary Institute, fell in love with Cuban food when he worked as a cook in Miami. After moving to downtown St. Petersburg, the couple “reincarnated” the concept of a Cuban coffee shop they’d run in Brooklyn, she says, changing it to a Cuban sandwich shop with fast casual food.

The nostalgic name hails from their days in New York, where the bodegas were a go-to place for food late at night.

The restaurant, which strives for the Florida feel, also is popular for its pollo asado (roast chicken) sandwich, plus vegetarian selections like jicama slaw and smoothies (or batidos) with mango, coconut and other tropical fruits. Shots of wheat grass and turmeric also are offered.

They aren’t announcing an opening date or hours yet, but updates will be posted here.

In case you are wondering, Bodega’s Cuban sandwich follows the Miami tradition, with Bodega’s own roast pork and homemade mojo, or sauce. It’s served sans salami, lettuce and tomato. “Some people ask for lettuce and tomato. We don’t encourage it,” she says. “It’s not the way we make it.”

In Tampa, salami is popular, while lettuce and tomato is popular in Key West. “People have a lot to say about a Cuban sandwich,” she adds. “It really just depends on the person and what they were growing up with.”

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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