Two fellows thought they recognized each other in a Los Angeles restaurant. Alan Hooper was there for the Florida State–Brigham Young football game. Tim Petrillo was celebrating his wife’s college graduation. They were both from Fort Lauderdale, and made plans to meet back home. That was 1996. It was the start of a business partnership that has produced some of the area’s more distinctive restaurants and residential buildings.
“He convinced me not to go into the bar business by myself,” Hooper says. “I later realized he did it to control construction costs. He had a motive. That was pretty smart.”
A current project, now underway, is at a familiar restaurant location. The corner of 13th Avenue and Las Olas Boulevard was once Bar Amici, a power cocktail-hour spot, and later the Boulevard Café. Most recently, it was M Bar, which abandoned the comfortable neighborhood ambience in favor of cold modernity. That idea flopped spectacularly, lasting barely a year, its only distinction being some online reviews that were almost comically negative. The location has been closed for almost two years. The new restaurant (the name is a state secret) is scheduled to open in early summer, and if a track record means anything, you can anticipate a restoration of success on a convenient corner.
That track record began with Himmarshee Bar & Grille in Fort Lauderdale’s historic district. Petrillo had already established a name with Mark’s Place in Miami Beach and later Fort Lauderdale. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts had revived the city’s oldest business section along the New River, and Hooper designed a new building to look like a renovation, with exposed ducts on the ceiling – the kind of renewal you might see in a Washington, D.C., or New York basement.
“I told the guys doing the plaster not to make it look too neat, to give it the feel of an old place,” says Hooper. It worked, and soon after the pair bought a building on the corner, fronting the Florida East Coast Railway. They turned it into the still-popular Tarpon Bend. They sold Himmarshee Bar & Grille (now The Dubliner), but they still own the building. More recent ventures include YOLO and Vibe on Las Olas Boulevard, and S3 on Fort Lauderdale beach.
Restaurants were a career shift for Hooper, who started in business doing condo renovations.
“I fixed toilets, cleaned carpets, did all the renovations,” he recalls. “But I found the business way too volatile, too emotional, so I decided to concentrate on commercial property.”
Although restaurants may be the more visible activity, he and his partners do real estate projects, notably Avenue Lofts in downtown Fort Lauderdale. That was a fast sellout in 2005, but not exactly the way it was conceived. The concept was for people to live and work in the same space, but it turned out most of the buyers wanted just to be residents and didn’t fancy office activity in the same building.
“The ground floor is all offices, it’s an ‘above shop’ building,” Hooper explains. “We found ‘live-work’ a hard concept. And yet it was the high ceilings design and industrial effect that drew people.”
The relationship that developed by accident in Los Angeles includes the real estate ventures.
“We are partners in everything,” Hooper says. “I know the real estate side; Tim [Petrillo] runs the restaurants. It’s a unique situation. In most mixed-use projects, the ground floor is either rentals or restaurants. And developers sometimes don’t consider the restaurant aspects when they design a building. It gives us a niche not a lot of development firms have.”
Two other members of their group are less visible. Peter Bouloukos is their head chef who goes back with Petrillo to their Mark’s days. You don’t see him a lot, but you can sure taste his work. Financier Steve Halmos is also a business partner.
Hooper is 49, but looks younger with dark curly hair, an in-shape frame and a ready grin. He was born in Fort Lauderdale and lives only a few doors from the house where he grew up in the Coral Ridge Country Club. He used to play football on the golf course, and saw Jimmy Evert teaching his daughter Chris tennis at Holiday Park. After 12 years at the Nova schools, he attended Florida State University. His loyalty to his alma mater is reflected in his alumni activity, and in a current project, College Town, in Tallahassee. The first phase of the 36,000-square-foot complex is underway. It will eventually include retail, student housing units, rentals for alumni boosters arriving for weekend football games, and corporate rentals directed to business interests that frequent the state capital. There’s also the possibility of a boutique hotel on the site.
Closer to home, and buoyed by the success of Avenue Lofts, the partners are planning to take advantage of the Wave, the streetcar that will link high-traffic downtown destinations with the coming FEC Railway station near Broward Boulevard. The project will be 200 units, including lofts, in the vicinity of the county courthouse, bringing workforce residences conveniently close to the courthouse, while offering access to what will soon be a busy passenger corridor on the FEC.
And don’t be surprised if he finds a way to feed them at the same time.