Jimmy Belle’s Seafood Market and Grill, which attracted a large following as soon as it opened 20 months ago, has closed. A new message was added to the restaurant’s sign on South Florida Avenue last night: “Closed. Thank you for your business.”

A surprised employee remarked on Twitter that she would have reported to work today had she not seen the sign last night.

A note signed by owner Harris Woodsby, 33, was placed on both entrances: “With a heavy heart, I am sorry to say that I’ve made the decision to close the restaurant permanently … It was a lifelong dream that didn’t work out as planned but I had some good times and I hope all of you did as well.”

Jimmy Belle’s, a seafood restaurant that drew crowds when it opened last year, has closed suddenly. More coming #lkld pic.twitter.com/wrRMW5Q1l3

— Lkld Now (@LkldNow) September 1, 2015

Woodsby grew up in the restaurant business. His family was known for Texas Cattle Company and Talk of the Town in Lakeland and numerous other restaurants between Orlando and St. Petersburg.

Rather than go directly into the family business, he founded his main business, Orlando-based seafood wholesaler Harris Seafood, while in his mid-20s.

When he opened Jimmy Belle’s in January 2014, he gave it a Florida fishing theme and placed a seafood market near the main entrance. The market was later replaced with an oyster bar.

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The restaurant attracted mostly positive reviews from critics and on consumer sites.

Jimmy Belle’s was plagued by the parking shortage that bedeviled its predecessors at the same address, leading Woodsby to add valet parking in recent months.

On Facebook, Woodsby said, “We’re down but not out. JB’s might make another appearance in the future. Definitely in a different location though. Gonna stick with the wholesale for a couple years then maybe try it again. We’ll see. Please support local establishments whenever possible.”

The comment was one of many responding to a post by Natalie Oldenkamp, who owned Natalie’s, the restaurant that preceded Jimmy Belle’s in the building at 3120 S. Florida Ave.

“It’s been over 3 years since I shut that same location down, and your heart never really stops hurting. You just have to pick yourself up and open another door,” Oldenkamp said in the post, visible to her friends and to Woodsby’s. In response to commenters, she said lack of parking at the location is the biggest obstacle to its use as a restaurant.

The Jimmy Belle’s website is still live, but its Facebook and Twitter profiles have been deactivated.

On a personal note, I thought of Jimmy Belle’s yesterday morning when I read this quip in a column in The Ledger by retiring Polk Community Development Manager Jim DeGennaro: “Every new restaurant that opens is the most popular place in town for the next six months.”

Had JimmyBelle’s lost its frequent full houses? Can’t say. I used to go there all the time when it first opened, but I haven’t been there for awhile.

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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1 Comment

  1. Personally, I feel the enormous size of that restaurant space can swallow an owner whole trying to keep it filled. It would take a goldmine idea to be profitable there. However many incarnations that spots been, when I’m inside, no matter the crowd, it felt too massive. The cost must have been great to employee enough people in order to run it. While I was never blown away with the food, it was a welcome addition to the scene. Pretty much the only place you could find certain proteins of the oceanic nature in the city. I wish they guy would have opened up maybe a fish camp style eatery somewhere with way less square footage, possible near the water.

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