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Proper in downtown St. Pete to close as Park & Rec takes over its space

By Laura Reiley
Patrons enjoy Park & Rec as Proper Kitchen & Cocktails is seen to the left Friday in St. Petersburg. Park & Rec will expand Nov. 17 into a second building. It will take over the space that has been Proper Kitchen & Cocktails. (CHRIS URSO | Times)

ST. PETERSBURG — Next week, something almost unprecedented is happening in St. Petersburg’s restaurant scene.

Park & Rec, the game-oriented concept from Stephen Schrutt’s Hunger + Thirst Restaurant Group, will expand Nov. 17 into a second building. It will take over the space that has been Proper Kitchen & Cocktails, which sits next to Schrutt’s original concept, the Avenue. Two side-by-side spaces, one concept.

The reason for the expansion, says Schrutt, is twofold. Park & Rec has proven successful, with thoughts of expanding the concept into other markets. And Proper, which opened in December 2016, less so. Some of this may be because of an awkward layout, Schrutt says (it previously had a short life as POW pizza and Woodfired Pizza before that), but also because the concept didn’t work as synergistically with the Avenue’s casual burger orientation and the arcade games of Park & Rec.

Schrutt’s reputation has been made on fun, easygoing places that weren’t too "foodie," he says. Proper was the outlier. Its custom-made smoker will be utilized for a new Park & Rec menu, although it won’t be a barbecue restaurant. (The wood oven inherited from POW will be used for pizzas.) The front of the restaurant will be opened up so that those playing cornhole and other lawn games can walk a few steps to get a drink at the bar.

The Avenue, Schrutt’s most successful concept, celebrates its sixth anniversary this week.

"When we first started, we were all alone on First Avenue S," he says. "We didn’t get people from things like First Friday. And now we get thousands for events like Halloween and the Mayweather fight."

He thinks downtown St. Petersburg has seen a renaissance as young professionals choose a more urban, pedestrian-friendly life. That said, Schrutt is nervous about the pace of restaurant development.

"We’ve grown very fast as a city. It’s great, but now we need more bodies down here. If we don’t get that, none of the businesses will be able to grow."

Does he see a looming saturation point for restaurants and craft beer? "I think we’re already there."

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.