Expectations rise as Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille nears kickoff.
The restaurant and bar, envisioned by “Head Ball Coach” Steve Spurrier, the former Gators Heisman-winning quarterback and coach, was first announced in summer 2019, and the operating partner was declared last February. The grill geared up for a fall premiere, but due to COVID-19-related construction setbacks, the multimillion-dollar project is likely to open in March or April of 2021 at 4949 Celebration Pointe Ave.
“We really felt like Gainesville was a big enough city and a good enough city, of course, to have a restaurant of this size and have my name on it.” Spurrier said. “It is a place where I can put my trophies on display, Heisman and SEC championships.”
Spurrier and the rest of the executive team are in the process of finalizing the American food lineup of burgers, pastas and salads and drafting a cohesive team of waitstaff and bartenders for a winning restaurant, said Freddie Wehbe, business manager for the grill.
“When you walk in, you're gonna feel a factor of ‘wow,’” Wehbe said. “You’re going to see contemporary design with an old school look to it.”
Promises of a Spurrier memorabilia exhibit served up with a menu of some of the former football coach’s favorite dishes have whetted the appetites of some longtime Gators fans eager to experience the polished casual gridiron.
“That in itself would be worth the trip for me, to see that kind of memorabilia that might not be in the public eye,” said Tyler Hadden, a 29-year-old Jacksonville-based business analyst.
The son of two UF alumni, Hadden inherited Gators pride. He often visited Gainesville as a child for football and basketball games, and he still drives down to the city several times a year.
Hadden said he’s most looking forward to soaking up ‘90s Florida Gators nostalgia and drinking with friends at the rooftop bar, “Visors,” which he called a “cityesque feature,” uncommon in Gainesville.
Visors is named after the coach’s signature football game headwear of choice, a breathable and more difficult to dirty hat alternative that will be part of the restaurant displays. Spurrier said the rooftop bar was also his favorite touch.
“You can look out over the interstate and all the way to the University of Florida to Century Tower and so forth,” Spurrier said. “That’d be a fun place to spend a couple hours.”
Spurrier said he hopes the grill will be a comfortable place for Gators fans to watch games while enjoying quality service and dining.
Kenny Wise, 45, first noticed the initial workings of Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille while on his way to The Keys Grill & Piano Bar with extended family.
Wise, a pharmacist who was born and raised in Gainesville, watched the 1996 national championship game in which coach Spurrier led UF to victory over FSU. The same year, quarterback Danny Wuerffel won the coveted Heisman trophy. Wise firsthand witnessed how the former head coach transformed the team.
“Florida football was kind of ho-hum until Spurrier got here,” he said. “From the year before to when Spurrier became coach, it was like night and day.”
Wise said he envisions the grill and bar as a fun, open atmosphere for all UF sports fans.
He doesn’t know what he’ll order, but he does know what food he doesn’t want to see on the menu: turnovers.
“Nobody likes turnovers,” Wise said, jokingly referring to a term used to describe when a football team loses possession of the ball.
Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille is one of the latest additions to a number of food businesses inspired by famous former football coaches, like Don Shula, Urban Meyer and fellow former Gators coach Jim McElwain.
As Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille prepares for its opening in the coming months, Gators fans await their chance to reminisce on the coach’s glory days.