Creating a Culinary Adventure
With culinary lessons learned at fine-dining establishments in places like New Orleans, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, a couple has teamed up with Laguna Madre area veteran restaurateurs to create a new dining experience on South Padre Island.
“There are some really great restaurants here but we wanted to offer something different,” said Walter Greenwood, executive chef of F&B SPI. “For example, we want to bring coastal Italian flavors here. It’s light and fresh and not too heavy.” Greenwood and his partner Brandi Hackett, who will run front of the house service as general manager, teamed up with brothers Scott Friedman (Pirates Landing, Pier 19) and Bob Friedman (Sea Ranch) to renovate the building on Padre Boulevard that once housed the popular Lantern Grill.
As a youngster, Greenwood lived on the Island in the 1990s, and still has family connections there. “We started coming down a couple of times a year and really liked it,” said Hackett, who met Greenwood when they worked at the same restaurant in Las Vegas. And they are more than business partners; the couple was engaged to be married in February.
“Walter brought the idea to us,” Scott Friedman said. “And knowing his family and his accomplishments, we put it all together.” Greenwood and Hackett own 50 percent of the new venture while the Friedmans own the other half.
The name F&B SPI is straightforward enough. It stands simply for Food and Beverage. Greenwood and Hackett share a passion for restaurants and their combination of experiences cover the spectrum of what’s needed to succeed – dishing up great food delivered to diners with first-class service. Hackett’s background includes working for Wolfgang Puck, where she designed and trained the front of the house staff for several of the famous chef’s restaurants. Greenwood earned a Zagat Award a few years back as one of the top 30 chefs under 30 in the Los Angeles area.
“I’m really focusing on bringing in species of fish the Island doesn’t have right now, like Dover sole and halibut,” Greenwood said. Of course, local favorites like red snapper and Gulf shrimp will be offered. “A lot of the menu will depend on what the fishermen are bringing in at the time.”
The menu features dishes like Striped Bass, Whole Salt Crusted Fish, Seafood Risotto and Braised Duck. But diners can expect to find new and different offerings regularly. “The menu will be changing constantly,” Greenwood said. “Every month we will switch things up, and some of that will be determined by what’s in season. We think that’s important. Every time someone comes to the restaurant they can try something new. And it’s important for the staff to work with new and different ingredients. There will be a lot creativity going on.”
And customer service is a high priority. Hackett said she will develop a database of customer information intended to enhance the dining experience. “People get very excited when they come in and they get their favorite table and server, maybe even their favorite scotch is waiting for them.”
Greenwood and Hackett don’t refer to F&B SPI as a fine-dining restaurant. Instead, they look to offer a culinary sophistication blended with a nod to the Island lifestyle. “We are not stuffy,” Hackett said. “You can walk in in shorts and sandals. We are on an island after all, and we want to embrace that culture.”
The couple was busy in June trying to pull everything together for an early July opening. Inside and outside, the building is getting a complete makeover. “We’re spending $65,000 just on the façade and outdoor plants,” Greenwood said. A wall of planter boxes inside will grow fresh herbs.
While taking a somewhat different approach than many of the Island’s restaurants, Greenwood believes now is the right time and the right place for F&B SPI. “The food culture around the U.S. is rapidly changing and growing,” he said. “People are getting more adventurous. The Island is rapidly expanding. A lot of people who come here are well-traveled, they know what good food is. We want it to be comfortable for the masses but still offer special items for the adventurous.”