Restaurant: One of the most successful restaurants in downtown Sarasota’s eclectic dining scene, the Bijou has been a staple in Sarasota’s Arts and Theater District since 1986. At 1287 First Street, the 134-seat restaurant in a restored 1920s gas station building, includes several dining rooms, including two courtyards for alfresco dining.
Sharon Carole, owner of The Realm Restaurant Group, purchased the Bijou from owner and chef Jean-Pierre “JP” Knaggs, who founded it with his wife, Shay Knaggs. The kingdom also operates the Sage restaurant in downtown Sarasota, nearby on First Street. Financial terms of the sale, announced in May, were not disclosed.
The restaurant has undergone extensive renovations and restorations after Carole’s purchase. This includes removing multiple walls to create a more open space, relocating and restoring the classic bar, adding garden views from every table, and adding a new grand piano. It reopened on November 16. âThis building has so much charm and character,â says Carole. âI think the piano really gives us that extra something to make us stand out. “
Opportunities: The heart of the opportunity, says Carole, is to take advantage of clients who attend performances at the Sarasota Opera House and the nearby Florida Studio Theater. The renovations are focused on this opportunity, as are other things that Carole is considering, such as an open mic party. âMy goal is to make it a late night spot,â says Carole.
Some menu items remain under the new owners, while Christopher Covelli, who Carole has recruited as executive chef, adds garden-inspired items with more green, vegetarian and vegan options. The opportunity is to make the restaurant more attractive to a diverse and younger clientele. âThe menu has a French and Californian influence that will perfectly match the setting of the building,â Covelli said in a statement.
Along with the building and updated menu, another mix of new and old staff arrives: many seasoned staff are still around, including Jeffrey Knaggs, son of JP Knaggs, who was recently promoted to Facilities Manager. “It is a wonderful feeling to work with an incredible group of people who care as much about the business as my family,” Young Knaggs said in a statement.
Threats: Since Carole is in the restaurant industry, an obvious threat, given the industry’s workforce challenges, is retaining a full staff. In December, Carole said she looked to hire six to eight people, adding to a workforce of 20. âWe’re doing well,â she said, âbut we really need to strengthen the staff for the season. “
While that’s not necessarily a threat, a blessing-curse is the location. While the location of the Arts District, on the one hand, is a distinct opportunity, Carole says âbeing on First Street is always an interesting challenge. We don’t have the kind of place on Main Street that people could just walk in. We have to work a lot more to get noticed and that’s a challenge. But I like challenges.