Tampa natives Nate Siegel and Merrin Jenkins announced family-friendly neighborhood restaurant and bar Willa’s (1700 West Fig Street) opens March 12 in North Hyde Park. Named after Merrin’s great-, great-grandmother and 19th-century Tampa pioneer, William Lowry, the restaurant currently offers American cuisine with French influences for dinner from 5-10pm, Wednesday through Sunday. Service every day of the week, expanded lunch hours and weekend brunch are to come. A 10-seat sister café and retail shop, Willa’s Provisions (310 North Rome Avenue), will open next month at the front of the building to serve coffee, a menu of pick-up fare and retail including gourmet pantry items and homemade Willa’s staples.
“To us, a neighborhood restaurant is casual, serves classic food people want to eat all the time and has an attentive staff that remembers regulars,” says co-founder Nate Siegel. “With Willa’s, we’re thrilled to serve and support Tampa with a place we hope locals and visitors alike will want to come again and again.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Willa’s is seating at 70 percent capacity and implementing safety measures including wellness checks for all employees before every shift, socially distanced tables, air filtration, surface disinfecting, mandatory masks for all staff and guests unless seated and more. Both Willa’s and Willa’s Provisions plan to roll out their takeout programs in the near future.
Rooted in a deep sense of hospitality, Willa’s is an easygoing gathering space serving a menu of comforting recipes and daily specials from Chef Zakari Davila, a Tampa native who trained at French Culinary Institute in NYC and Lyon, then worked with Tom Colicchio’s Crafted Hospitality, the TAO Group and La Pecora Bianca. Nearly everything on the menu is made in-house, from breads to tonics. The restaurant’s signature dish is its Rotisserie Chicken, an item that sets the tone for the simple, American dishes found throughout.
The kitchen staff uses the whole bird to make stock and bone broth from scratch for dishes like Chicken & Rice Soup, Schmaltz Potatoes and more. An abundance of fresh veggie sides and salads round out the menu, which is made up of roughly 70 percent vegan or vegetarian dishes. Other highlights from the menu include Miso Ōra King Salmon with seared haricot verts, lemon & dressed greens and Tahini Caesar Salad with little gems and kale with a mountain of grana padano and rustic croutons, plus snacks like Bar Popcorn with house noochy seasoning and Cured Castelvetrano Olives with citrus, chili & fennel pollen. Desserts made by Pastry Chef Benjamin Copeland (formerly of The Gasparilla Inn & Club) include Profiteroles with soft serve vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate and Carrot Cake with coconut, caramel nuts & whipped mascarpone. Kids can choose familiar bites, sandwiches and desserts from a separate menu.
Available by the glass and bottle – including half-bottles and magnums – the wine list at Willa’s is focused, well priced and ever-changing, showcasing about 50 bottles from small producers of organic, biodynamic and natural wines. Led by Head Bartender Ronnie Wyche Jr. (formerly of Rooster & The Till, The Bricks and Mise en Place), the bar team makes in-house cold brewed tonic with lemongrass, lavender & a natural form of quinine and triple-filtered ginger beer brewed with fresh ginger, both served on tap. A range of house drinks include the Parsley Pepper Margarita with fresh green juice, jalapeno & a lava salt rim, the Hotel National and the Strawberry Aperol Spritz, along with non-alcoholic beverages on tap. Guests can also customize a menu of cocktails with their spirit of choice. The coldest in town, Willa’s beers are poured in frosty chilled glasses, with favorite local crafts and imports on draught.
Opening next month, the more casual Willa’s Provisions will serve locally roasted King State Coffee, tea and adaptogens from HOUSE of WARIS Botanicals out of NYC, baked goods and breakfast tacos in the morning. Starting at lunch, guests can dine in or pick up soups, salads, sandwiches, soft-serve ice cream and Willa’s Rotisserie Chicken to-go, and aperitifs and digestifs will be served in the evenings. Other offerings at Provisions will include Merrin and Nate’s curated selection of their favorite pantry staples, including olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, wine and more, plus items made in Willa’s kitchen like their signature rotisserie chicken spice rub, Chef Zak’s garlic confit, almond milk, fresh juices, granola, pastries and baked goods. There will also be a rotating selection of Willa’s merchandise, from hats and sweatshirts to espresso cups.
Willa’s and Willa’s Provisions are housed in a 4,700-square-foot industrial building initially constructed around a century ago. The restaurant has a number of unique and flexible seating options for guests, including semi-private seating, fully-private seating, full restaurant buyouts, sundowner cocktails on the patio, wine dinners, intimate chef’s tasting and everything in between. Its urban setting is three blocks from South Tampa, bordering the heart of downtown Tampa and Tampa Heights, and a short walk from the University of Tampa and the growing Cypress Corridor.
Twice James Beard Foundation nominees, Austin’s FÖDA Studio leads interiors, identity and brand development. RDB Design serves as Architect of Record. The design team carefully preserved the gritty qualities of the aging structure while introducing crisp, clean-lined and reductive new finishes to create precise contrast. The restaurant features time-tested elements from classic cafés and brasseries, but at its heart, is fundamentally Floridian and meant to serve its neighborhood with comfort. The design team focused on forms and materials native to a humid coastal setting, presented without kitsch. Willa’s seats guests in the bar and dining area, and on its pet-friendly outside patio. Free parking is available in the Willa’s parking lot, which can be accessed from West Fig Street. Due to road work improvements, the detour from Fremont to Fig is currently the best route.
Co-founder Nate Siegel brings an extensive hospitality background with nearly a decade of experience working at renowned Tampa and New York restaurants, including Mise en Place, Ruschmeyer’s, Tacombi and with the Keith McNally Restaurant Group, which includes Balthazar, Pastis, Minetta Tavern, Morandi and more. A fellow Tampa native, Co-founder Merrin Jenkins comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. She has worked for several non-profits including the Tampa Museum of Art and New York University, and most recently, she served as the Director of Development for the Akilah Institute, an award-winning women’s college in Rwanda educating female leaders for a sustainable future. Both Nate and Merrin are realizing a long-held dream of opening a restaurant in their hometown.