TARPON SPRINGS — For years, the big building at 606 N. Pinellas Ave., former home to several popular restaurants including Snookers and Lagerheadz, has remained vacant, prompting widespread speculation and anticipation as to when the site would find a new tenant and reopen to the public.
That day arrived Sept. 28, as Morgan Mae’s Oyster House officially opened its doors to reveal a completely revamped establishment featuring nautical-themed art and décor and a menu heavy on oysters and seafood with plenty of options for landlubbers, as well.
The eatery is owned by lifelong friends and business partners Alan Blythe and Mike Murphy. With several decades of operating a string of successful seafood restaurants in North Carolina on their resumes, the pair is confident they can make their colorful concept work in Tarpon Springs, as well.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business all my life and I decided to bring the concept here because I thought that this area needed an oyster bar,” said Blythe, who moved to Florida to retire two years ago until he noticed a dearth of such establishments in north Pinellas County. “I know Rusty Bellies does a great job here but there really isn’t another oyster bar in north county, so I felt a need for another seafood restaurant in this area.”
The road to getting the place ready to reopen was paved with the typical potholes that come with converting a long vacant space into an operational establishment, including costly renovations and an extreme makeover that included hanging a long wooden boat from the rafters. But the partners also faced some unforeseen obstacles in the form of COVID-19.
“We started the project in November and were ready to go in February and then COVID hit and made us backpedal a bit,” Blythe said. “But this is a monster of a building and it was a big undertaking, so we used the extra time to work out the kinks and hopefully get everything right.”
Murphy noted they were “all in the same boat” as far as businesses having to deal with the pandemic, but he said the partners never thought about nixing their plan to open.
“We weren’t about to turn back with everything we’d invested so far,” he said.
Blythe, who named the Tarpon restaurant after his daughter while his son’s name adorns his North Carolina chain, said Morgan Mae’s would be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. till 3 p.m., featuring a brunch special, on Sundays.
With the renovations complete and the opening day, which was pushed back a week, in the books, the partners said they hope their new place will quickly catch on with residents and visitors.
“The reaction has been encouraging so far,” Blythe said, noting they had just received a call from someone who lives an hour away asking when they were opening.
“We’ve got a good product, a hell of a good chef and a great staff, so we’re confident people will be happy with it,” Murphy added.
Asked about their future plans, Blythe said, “If we can make this work in a market not known for seafood, we plan to expand to other locations south of here in Pinellas County. I always say if you want to see if something is successful test it in the toughest market. I figure if it works here in Tarpon it can work anywhere.”