Skipper’s Smokehouse reopens after closing during pandemic

TAMPA – There’s a cult following at Skipper’s Smokehouse. And, when the restaurant announced its 40th anniversary last September, it was planning to close and sell, customers were heartbroken.

On Thursday, music roared through the living oak trees above the stage affectionately dubbed the Skipperdome.

“We’re a bit unique in that we’re not totally a restaurant, we’re not totally a place, and we’re not totally an oyster bar,” said Cricket Larson. Larson’s official title to The skipper’s smoking room is director of marketing and public relations, but the one she told us is much more of her personality: “my title is chef and bottle washer,” she laughs.

Skipper’s Smokehouse closed during the pandemic, opening only a few times to see if it could make a profit.

“Without the music, we really couldn’t get by with take out or a limited capacity dining situation,” Larson said. “The pandemic has shown me that we need to work on our food program because I feel like if our food program had been a little stronger than it was, maybe we would have had the opportunity. to survive or hang on a little longer. “

In September, they played their last concert and closed the doors.

“At some point you have to stop the bleeding. You know, that’s what was really hard, the part of the staff, a lot of these people had been with us for many years. Some of them came back, not all of them, ”Larson said.

While looking for a new buyer, Larson said they couldn’t connect with someone who could carry the restaurant’s legacy in the future. So the owners decided they weren’t going to sell and made the choice to start over.

Some of the veteran staff have returned, but most are new, including their chef, who is focused on fresh fish, homemade sauces, and preparing dishes like their famous Reuben grouper. They even touched up the place with fresh paint, new seating areas, updated kitchen appliances, and downsized their menu.

“Some things look different, but the vibe is deep and the vibe is still there; the vibe hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s the same as it always has been,” he said. Larson said. “You don’t know what you have until it’s some sort of thing, and so I found myself sad that I couldn’t come here and have the same faces that I like to see regularly or hear. live music. “

The restaurant now requires reservations to help control crowds, all staff are required to wear masks and some of the dishes they were famous for will not be on the menu. Nonetheless, these are tough decisions, Larson said, were needed to survive.

“They just weren’t moving like they needed to move, so we had to make decisions about the data and make some tough decisions,” Larson said. “These weren’t always the ones I liked to do, but they had to be made so that we got to a point where we could open up and hopefully survive.”

The oysters are still shelled fresh at the oyster bar, the Reuben grouper is always a hit, and live music is back on their calendar. Larson is delighted to say that Skipper’s Smokehouse is back and hopefully better than ever.

“As long as they (the customers) continue to love us, we’ll do our best to keep this thing going and that we love them,” Larson said.

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