A former Florida restauranteur plans to bring a taste of the Gulf of Mexico to Columbus early next year when he opens a casual dining seafood restaurant on Warm Springs Road.
Loren Smith said he will open Bluewater Grill at 4640 Warm Springs Road. Smith, who most recently owned Pompano’s in Panama City Beach, Fla., comes from a family that has operated restaurants on the coast for decades. He hopes to open in late January with a small fish market inside the restaurant, he said.
“I know people think I am insane to do a 180 here in Georgia,” said Smith, a 54-year-old lifelong Panama City resident. “But I have been watching this market for more than 20 years. And the feedback I kept getting was Columbus needed a good seafood restaurant. So, here I am.”
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Smith moved to Columbus with his family earlier this year after selling the Pompano’s property on Front Beach Road to a developer. One of the reasons he chose to move to Columbus was he has family in the area, including his mother, Gwen Morrison.
For months, Smith, a chef who plans to spend considerable time in the kitchen, had been looking for adequate space for months. He looked at locations throughout the city, including downtown before stumbling on the Warm Springs Road location.
“I was meeting my cousin at Pepper’s barbecue and parked in the back,” Smith said. “I was coming out and saw this space. I went and looked in the window and it went from there.”
He had been working with several real estate agents, but had not seen the Warm Springs Road location.
“This was a market-driven decision,” Smith said. “I like the residential density in that area. I understand and appreciate what’s happening downtown and one day I might dip my toe in that market, too.”
The building has been vacant for months, Smith said. His first order of business is a complete overhaul of the space. Smith plans a rustic look and plans to use items from his Florida warehouse to decorate and furnish the restaurant.
“It is going to be a casual seafood restaurant that is bit eclectic,” Smith said.
He will draw from some of the Pompano’s recipes, but it will be a fairly limited menu that will include beef and chicken dishes. Seafood, brought in fresh from the Gulf, will be at the center of the menu, he said.
“We are going to deal with many of the same vendors we dealt with in Panama City,” he said.
The restaurant, which Smith said will be family-friendly, will also have a small full-service bar.
His family is no stranger to the Pamana City Beach restaurant business. His father, Lowe Smith, built the original Shrimp Boat in the early 1950s. The original Beck Avenue location was demolished and rebuilt in 2002. In 2014, The Shrimp Boat LLC, of which Smith was president, filed for federal bankruptcy protection.
Pompano’s, which Smith owned and operated for 27 years, was not involved in the bankruptcy.