Jeffrey Jew, a Bravo Top Chef alumnus and former executive chef at 2B Hospitality, has seen St. Petersburg’s local food scene change dramatically in the eight years he’s lived here.
Now Jew is preparing to bring his own contributions to the local area. He expects to open Lingr on 6th Street, just south of downtown St. Petersburg, this summer. The menu will blend the culinary traditions of his own Norwegian and Asian heritage, using locally-sourced ingredients. The 150-seat restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“It will be a restaurant that welcomes everybody,” Jew said in an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst. “What I envision is a community hub where people can do work, have breakfast meetings, lunch meetings. It will very focused on the Innovation District and local businesses that surround it. And it also will be a great spot to have dinner.”
It’s Jew’s first solo project, after years of experience in Washington, D.C., where he was head chef at the Italian embassy and chef de cuisine at several notable restaurants. When his partner, James Steiner, was recruited by Trevor Burgess, then CEO of the former C1 Bank, to work at the bank — Steiner eventually became chief risk officer — the couple moved to St. Petersburg. Jew traveled back and forth to Washington for a while, before he signed on with 2B, the owner of Bella Brava, to open Stillwaters Tavern on Beach Drive. After five years, he decided it was a good time to go out on his own.
He worked with Burgess, now CEO of Neptune Flood, on finding the right spot. In August 2019, Burgess’ real estate firm, TRB Development, bought a former BayCare Medical Group building at 400 6th St. S. Neptune will occupy the second floor and Lingr will take the ground floor.
“This particular location made sense because there was parking, it was zoned correctly, there was an opportunity to buy the lot behind it to increase the amount of parking as well and the price was right,” Jew said.
He also likes the walkability of the neighborhood, including new townhomes under construction by Salt Palm Development.
Construction on the Neptune Flood/Lingr project is under way, and Jew expects to open in July or August.
Unlike previous collaborative efforts, Lingr is the first opportunity Jew — who is half Norwegian and half Chinese — has had to present his own concepts, drawing on the food of his childhood.
“In Norway they use a lot of hyperlocal ingredients, very seasonal. So I’m instilling that idea in the restaurant, using everything local, everything seasonal where I can,” Jew said. “I grew up with a lot of dim sum and the restaurant will be breakfast, lunch and dinner so there will be some aspect of that dim sum as well as other Chinese ingredients in the menu.
“Also, there’s not a really spectacular Chinese-focused restaurant in the downtown area, so that was another plus for me.”
Lingr will have a very Nordic feel with clean lines and a marble bar that to Jew resembles an iceberg. The dining room will open out to a garden with outdoor seating.
There’s also a focus on sustainability. He’s working with BioHiTech, a New York firm with technology that diverts food waste from landfills by breaking it down into a liquid that enters the wastewater system, and with ReCORK, a recycling company that turns wine corks into shoes and other products.
Future of the industry
“It’s skyrocketing to the next level. When we first moved here we would only go to a select few restaurants. Now that’s become a much larger number of restaurants to go to that are really good,” Jew said. He credits the growing population in the area and a ready-made training ground.
Jew is involved with several industry associations. In February, he was a judge in the HUNCH (High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware) culinary program. Three Florida high schools — from Gainesville, Brooksville and Coral Gables — submitted research papers on food in microgravity, as well as recipes approved by NASA. Next month, he will take part the SkillsUSA Florida 2020 conference in Pensacola, and in May he’s participating in Evening with the Chefs, a signature fundraiser at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater to benefit the Ryan Wells Foundation, named for a young culinary student killed in a car accident.
Lingr will be unique, and will join a fast-expanding local food scene.
“Tampa Bay is well known for those chain restaurants. This is where they all come to test them out. I think that’s an interesting part of the industry in this area. It also gave an opportunity for all those people who worked in those restaurants to go out on their own, after seeing how the business is run by big companies and learning the trade.”
“Community involvement is very important in the chef and restaurant community,” Jew said. Community involvement plays a key role in mental health, he said. citing the hard work and late nights that are notorious in the industry. “Just being there for one another and also being able to teach the future of the industry at the same time.”