When the bar and lounge Franklin Manor opened in the summer of 2016 on a more-or-less deserted corner of Franklin Street, the strategy of its owners, the Nocturnal Hospitality Group — led by David Anderson and Lanfranco Pescante — wasn’t clear to people looking from the outside in. The two were known around town for their successful club and concert promotions around Ybor City and SoHo, but why would they choose a still-developing area of downtown to launch their first venue of their own?
“We wanted to go down- town because we believed that every downtown in the world is kind of cool and vibrant,” Pescante says. “On the block of Franklin Manor, it was us and a bunch of homeless people in the park [when we started]. Now it’s become a great part of downtown.”
“We knew downtown was going to be the next [big area of Tampa], and because of our promoter background we were willing to take a gamble on a location,” Anderson adds. “Downtown is nowhere [close to] where it’s going to be. [But] it’s still a solid 30% busier, better and more exciting than it was when we first built Franklin Manor.”
That block, and the few that bookend it, are now dominated by the Nocturnal Hospitality Group. In just a few short years Pescante and Anderson have created Downtown Tampa’s version of Restaurant Row with a collection of bar-centric eateries and lounges. Running north to south along Franklin Street, the group owns and operates Mole y Abuela, a Mediterranean-Spanish tapas concept with a rooftop bar; Franklin Manor, more of a straight-up bar that also has a restaurant component; Osteria, serving traditional Italian food in a modern atmosphere; and Shibui, an Asian fusion and sushi restaurant slated to open in November or December on the first floor of the Element building.
After Franklin Manor opened, Pescante and Anderson — who are both in their mid-30s — saw the people who had attended the house parties and club events they threw throughout their 20s becoming regular customers. Plus, dozens of hungry and thirsty people were moving into downtown’s new apartment complexes every day. That opened the group’s eyes to pursuing additional concepts, Pescante says. “We saw an opportunity with how many people were following us to Franklin Manor,” he explains. “It was kind of becoming a destination of downtown, and people were shifting from going to SoHo to downtown.”
By 2018, Pescante and Anderson were ready to expand into restaurants. The only problem was, while they had plenty of hospitality experience, they had never run a restaurant before. Enter celebrity chef Fabio Viviani.
Now the third partner in the NocturnalHospitality Group, Viviani first found fame on Bravo’s Top Chef and has since appeared on dozens of TV shows and opened more than 20 restaurants nationwide. He and Pescante both hail from Italy and share a number of mutual acquaintances. When the Nocturnal group was planning to open the Italian concept Osteria — a longtime dream of Pescante’s — Viviani was one of a handful of chefs they asked to get involved.
Little did Anderson and Pescante know that a few months before they reached out, Viviani had actually stopped into Franklin Manor during a trip to Tampa. What he found were great cocktails and a packed bar on a Wednesday night. Once Viviani made the connection between the group and Franklin Manor, the two sides began negotiating and eventually struck a deal. Viviani is now the executive chef behind each of Nocturnal’s restaurant concepts, including the forthcoming Shibui.
“For me, one of the main components of successful hospitality is the ability to draw people toward your venues,” Viviani says. “I can keep them there with great food and good service, but I think [Pescante and Anderson’s] ability to move the masses, it’s a great component to the success of that group.”
Viviani says Osteria, Mole y Abuela and Shibui are each designed to ll a gap in Tampa’s food scene with offerings that are authentic to their culinary roots. The chef places a heavy emphasis on making sure the food in his restaurants is cooked by people who understand the cuisine. “When Osteria opened, Tampa was in need of a version of an Italian restaurant that was hipster enough to make it an nightlife spot but traditional enough to bring people the good flavor of the mother country,” he explains. “With Mole y Abuela, it was bringing the Mediterranean and Spanish flavor to that area of town. When you think about Shibui, think of a more approachable version of a Nobu or a Matsuhisa, a more elaborate version of your classic Asian place.”
“It’s an honor, having a celebrity chef associate with two young guys who maybe didn’t have quite the [same level of restaurant] experience,” Pescante says.
Together, the three are helping to revive the northern end of downtown, slowly but surely bringing Franklin Street closer to where it was during its heyday in the early 20th century. The street was Tampa’s commercial hub, lined with streetcars, department stores like Maas Brothers and Woolworth’s, and attractions like the Tampa Theatre. By the 2010s, most buildings on Franklin Street had sat empty for decades, and businesses that moved in (like those who had previously occupied Franklin Manor’s location) didn’t last long.
“That location was historically known to fail,” Anderson says. “When we found out that bar basically did $6 million [in sales] its first year, a lot of people took notice and were like, who the hell are these two kids who pulled this off ? I knew then that more opportunities were going to open up, and sure enough, they did.”
“It was a big risk, putting a million dollars into a completely moribund corner of downtown,” Pescante adds. “Seeing the amount of people and the first year sales that we did, it was a big satisfaction.”
Pescante and Anderson are big believers in the future of Downtown Tampa and think that any development, no matter where it is, is a net positive.
“I think the sky’s the limit. I think Water Street and what Jeff Vinik is doing is a tremendous addition and is only going to bene t everybody,” Pescante says. “A lot of people ask me if we’re afraid because [our concepts] are on the north end of downtown. Not really, because people are going to go where they want to go. There will be plenty of options for everybody.”
For Viviani, who owns restaurants in cities ranging from Los Angeles and Chicago to Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tampa is exactly his kind of place.
“I love emerging markets like Tampa,” he says. “The future is not in the big cities. The future is in the sub-markets, which are only ‘sub’ because they are more approachable. But the excitement, the quality, is just as [high] in the smaller markets as the bigger ones.”
“I would pick Tampa all day compared to New York.”
912 N. Franklin St. | thefranklinmanor.com
903 N. Franklin St. | osteriatampa.com
Mole y Abuela
1202 N. Franklin St. | moleyabuelatampa.com
808 N. Franklin St. | @shibuitampa