Artie Guy’s phone has been ringing nonstop for the past few weeks.
Excited friends, students, alumni and Gainesville natives have all been anxiously asking him the same question: “Is it open yet?”
Guy is resurrecting a former Gainesville favorite, Steamers, 10 years after he sold the restaurant to a different owner to dedicate more time to his tempeh company.
Previously located at 1618 NW First Ave. behind The Swamp Restaurant, Steamers will now occupy the building that was formerly the Lunchbox in downtown Gainesville’s Bo Diddley Plaza – 104 SE First Ave.
Guy, who owned the restaurant at its former location from 2000-2005, said they’re planning to do a soft opening in the coming weeks, with a grand opening scheduled for the first week of May.
Steamers was opened in Gainesville in 1982 by Jim Evans, a Vietnam War veteran, and it quickly became a popular lunch destination for University of Florida students, parents and faculty because of its proximity to campus, Guy said. After passing from owner to owner over the years, the restaurant officially closed in 2011.
Guy is bringing Steamers back to town in a new location with a history of its own. The building, called Bethel Station, was built in 1925 and served as a Gulf Oil car service station. Originally located where the downtown parking garage is today, Bethel Station was moved to its current location near the plaza in the mid-1980s, and the Regional Transit System used it as a ticketing office.
The building was initially made of red brick but was painted white in the 1930s to appear more modern. Since being moved to Bo Diddley Plaza, it has been renovated to its original style.
Guy said he’s excited to be opening Steamers in a building with such rich history.
“I’m an old dude, so I like old things,” he said.
The Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency advertised for the opportunity to lease the Bethel Station and received 11 responses by the given deadline. After an extensive evaluation, interview and ranking process, Steamers came out on top, said Gainesville CRA Project Manager Lynn Janoski.
Steamers will not be affected by the renovation construction currently taking place in Bo Diddley Plaza, Janoski said. Guy added that the timing of the plaza’s construction worked in their favor.
“By the time the plaza reopens, we’ll be vigorous and moving and then we’ll plug right into their agendas and we’ll be able to feed off each other,” he said.
The building is about 400 square feet, which is about 90 square feet less than the previous Steamers building. Guy said he’s slightly concerned about having to prepare food and train new employees in such a compact space.
The added pressure of a central downtown location and the inevitable crowds is intimidating as well, but he said those concerns will fade as the team gets settled.
“Once it’s up and rolling, we’ll kick its ass,” Guy said.
Steamers will serve a variety of fried rice and curry dishes as well as sandwiches and vegan options. The restaurant’s namesake comes from the unique process with which they make their sandwich meat.
They place hamburger meat in a boiling pot of water until it cooks, and then pour the mixture onto a hot griddle. When the water starts to steam, the greasy nature of the hamburger meat is broken down, making the meat drier and fluffier, Guy said.
The return of these sandwiches has foodies all over Gainesville anxiously anticipating the restaurant’s opening.
One of these is Ken Peng of local food blog Ken Eats Gainesville. Peng said his favorite dish was “The Twister,” a sandwich filled with steamed beef, onions, green peppers, mushrooms and jalapenos.
Peng posted about Steamers’ return to Gainesville on his blog’s official Facebook page, and said the positive responses were overwhelming; the post reached 32,700 people and received 123 shares and 701 “likes” as of March 31. Peng said this was the second most popular post on his Facebook page, after his announcement about the opening of Lucky’s Market.
Peng said Steamers had a “cult following” at its former location, and he predicts the same popularity now that they have high visibility in the downtown area.
“I’m really excited for an old icon to be coming back,” Peng said. “It’s kind of like it’s rising from the ashes.”