I have been an avid consumer of Bodega maduros and their Chi Chi soda fresca for 10 years. Back in 2013, George and Debbie Sayegh fell in love with St. Pete and took their passion for restaurants to Central Avenue. At the time, Bodega was situated inside a tiny shack-like space at the corner of 10th Street and Central Avenue. The EDGE was a much different neighborhood back then, but a decade on, Bodega may be one of the greatest St. Pete success stories ever.
“We originally came to St. Pete because George’s parents were looking to move here,” said Debbie Sayegh in an interview with I Love the ‘Burg. At the time, Debbie and George were living in Brooklyn. Their mission trip for George’s parents became a sort of meetcute with the Sunshine City. “Some friends drove us around Central Avenue and we wound up at Beak’s in the Grand Central District…that night I said to George, ‘Babe, we have go to move here.'”
Bodega expands down Central Avenue in the summer of 2020
Both Debbie and George saw tremendous potential in the area. Their first restaurant, Bodega, was an extension of concepts they had previously operated in the Northeast.
“We wanted to open a casual spot with fresh ingredients…somewhere we wanted to eat,” said Debbie. “When we first opened Bodega St. Pete was little quieter. But we saw huge potential in this area, and we knew it would blow up.”
When Bodega first opened one of the biggest points of interest for Debbie and George was sourcing the best Cuban bread they could find.
Bringing Casino Bakery Bread to the EDGE District
“First we worked with La Segunda Bakery in Ybor, but we needed more bread than they could deliver on a weekly basis, so we started working with Casino Bakery out of Tampa.” said Debbie. “That bakery took a chance on us delivering bread fresh to our little restaurant 6 days a week. The same guy who delivered our bread on the first day is still delivering it to us today.”
Over the last 10 years Bodega itself has grown into Casino Bakery’s biggest account. It’s not hard to see why when you see a line around the block for a Bodega Cuban sandwich on a Friday night.
Back in 2019, six years after it first opened. Bodega announced it would move from its original location, just up the block to 1180 Central Avenue in the former home of Mis En Chic.
“The opportunity to expand came on our radar, and we really wanted to preserve that beautiful building,” said Debbie. “We loved our original location, and we were sad to move, but the restaurant had grown a point that we needed more room to cook and serve and seat.”
Debuting the new speakeasy, Bar Chica, in St. Pete
The near 4,000 square foot restaurant space also included a nook that originally was set to serve as storage. But after a year of operating in their new digs, Debbie, George, and the Bodega staff once again saw the potential for something fun. Welcome to Bar Chica.
“We just thought, you know, wouldn’t it be cute if you could sneak in the back and have a cocktail after dinner,” said Debbie. The team at the restaurant has enjoyed guiding folks to the hidden speakeasy in the back of the new Bodega.
The restaurant officially celebrates its 10 year anniversary in St. Pete on March 15, and that day will include $5 Cuban sandwiches all day.
Follow Bodega on Instagram to learn more about the restaurant and its menu.
1180 Central Avenue
The Bodega owners have also opened the Greek and Lebanese inspired fine dining restaurants Baba and Barbouni in the Grand Central District.
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