INDIAN ROCKS BEACH, Fla. — New data from Visit St. Pete/Clearwater shows visitors in Pinellas County prefer dining at local restaurants instead of chains and the most popular was the Salt Rock Grill in Indian Rocks Beach.
“Visitors are coming to highly trafficked areas who saw our marketing,” said Eddie Kirsch, VSPC digital producer. “It’s what we want to see.”
The Adara expenditure report released last month used visitor data from April through October 2022 on people who live 50 miles outside of Pinellas County, saw a VSPC digital advertisement and used a credit card in the market.
“We’re not capturing an entire picture of it,” said Kirsch. “It’s better sort of as a representation.”
The data showed 9 out of the top 10 restaurants were local. The Salt Rock Grill was at the top of the list and Crabby Bills rounded out the bottom. The only “chain” was the Hilton Hotel, which came in at number 7.
“The top restaurants we saw are not only local but also in heavily trafficked tourism areas of the destination,” said Kirsch. “So, it is not overall surprising to see many of these at the top of the list.”
Frank Chivas said he opened the Salt Rock Grill in 1997 and secured the bank loan by putting his home up as collateral. The location along the intra-coastal has played a role in the success of the restaurant, according to Chivas.
“The key to the restaurant is to have a great atmosphere. We’re waterfront,” he said. “We have great views. We got what I like to call it a ‘nice little sexy feel.’”
Chivas said along with the atmosphere, he keeps his restaurant packed by offering fresh seafood at an excellent price point.
“From 4 o’clock to 5:30, we fill the restaurant up,” he said. “It’s filled until 9 o’clock or 9:30 at night. So, we literally get three turns out of the restaurant.”
According to the data, the total spent at the Salt Rock Grill for 6 months in 2022 was $981,600, with the average diner spending $178. Chivas said he’s pleased the Salt Rock Grill came in at number 1.
“It’s surprising, but I also feel honored,” he said. “We’re busy. We’re doing numbers that we’ve never done before.”
New Visit St. Pete/Clearwater data shows the Salt Rock Grill in Indian Rocks Beach was the number 1 restaurant choice for visitors in Pinellas County. Nine of the top 10 restaurants were local. @bn9 https://t.co/Bdn3cYzn8h pic.twitter.com/DTjnlvTN7U— Josh Rojas (@JoshRojasBN9) April 23, 2023
The restaurant did record breaking sales during this past spring break but not in profits due to higher operational costs, according to Chivas.
“It’s a lot harder to make money in the restaurant business today than it was yesterday,” he said. “With the high price of inflation, the high cost of labor and everything else, insurance — they won’t even give us insurance.”
Chivas should know about the cost of operating restaurants because he also owns Baystar Restaurant Group, which operates a dozen different restaurants in Pinellas County.
“I’ve got quite a few restaurants and people always ask me, ‘why don’t you do chains?’ I get bored easily,” he said. “I’m opening an ice cream place and a cookie place called Cool Cookie and so now I’ve really lost my mind.”
The restaurateur said during his early teens, his dad was a commercial fisherman who was lost at sea. Chivas said he started out as a fisherman and currently manages a fleet of a dozen boats who bring fish from the Gulf of Mexico for his fresh seafood supply company Direct Seafood.
“When I say fresh, we’re talking 3-day-old fresh or 2-day-old fresh,” he said. “Every once in a while we get fish that their gills are still moving.”
The boats dock at Salt Rock Grill and there’s a processing facility on site. Chivas said he moved to Pinellas County when was 16 and within two weeks began running the kitchen for restaurateur June Bartke.
“She taught me everything I know about the restaurant business,” he said. “I was a fisherman, a dishwasher, a pot washer and luckily I worked hard and got to where I’m at today.”
Kirsch said this is the first time VSPC has purchased the Adara campaign expenditure report and they’re still learning from the data.
“Since this is tied to our digital marketing efforts, potentially, this audience may be more aware of the local businesses in the destination,” he said. “It has been anecdotally great to see this in the initial reports, and in market spending will be an ongoing measurement we hope (to) regularly receive more information about.”
Pinellas County Top 10 Restaurants:
Salt Rock Grill
Columbia Sand Key
Crabby’s On The Pass
Guppy’s On The Beach
Sea Dog Brewing Company
Middle Grounds Grill
Rusty Bellies Water