Steve Spurrier, the Heisman Trophy winner turned “Head Ball Coach” with the legendary “Fun and Gun Offense,” had long ago run out of space for his many awards and honors.
“My daughter Amy said, ‘You need a restaurant to put all your trophies and all this stuff in. Your room at the house is getting too crowded,’ and I said, ‘That’s probably a good idea,’” said the man who has become synonymous at home and away with Florida Gators football.
That idea will become a reality in late June, when a 442-seat restaurant, Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille, opens in Celebration Pointe in Gainesville. The restaurant will have a rooftop bar called Visor’s and plans to hire between 350 and 375 employees, Spurrier said.
The bar, of course, is named for the iconic coach’s penchant for wearing visors on the sidelines.
After the conversation with his daughter, Spurrier spoke to his business manager, Freddie Wehbe, who spoke with representatives of at Celebration Pointe, a mere 5 miles from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where the coach led the Gators to six SEC championships and a national title.
They included Svein Dyrkolbotn, a former UF basketball player and owner of Viking Companies, the developer of Celebration Pointe, and Ryan Frankel, founder and president of Frankel Media Group, who will do the marketing for the project, Spurrier said.
“The space was there, and we came up with Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille, and these men came to me and, of course, I said, ‘Let’s go do this thing!’” he said. “They really have done most all the work, and certainly I’m thrilled to be a part of it and have my name on the restaurant.”
Ahmad Black, a safety on the Gators’ 2008 championship team, is excited about the restaurant.
“I hear it’s going to be one of the top 10 biggest restaurants in the state, so that alone is amazing,” Black said.
Spurrier said the restaurant will have “excellent food – not just good,” and added that as far as “atmosphere: It’s got to be fun, and you’ve got to enjoy yourself there.”
It will seem like a museum with on display the most treasured items – of course, the Heisman among them – of a man inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player and a coach.
There will be other Gator memorabilia as well, said Wehbe, the restaurant’s managing partner.
“Danny Wuerffel is going to lend us his Heisman and his Davey O’Brien award,” Wehbe said. “We are talking to Tim Tebow right now to possibly host his Heisman as well.”
Wehbe, however, wanted to make one thing clear: “There is a misconception out there that any time you put a coach’s name on a restaurant that it is a sports bar. That is not the case with this one. This is an elevated polished casual restaurant with great food and great service.”
The menu has been developed over the last six months and will feature “American food with a southern flavor and European influences,” said its executive chef, Mark Heigl.
Spurrier’s will also offer patrons another a unique feature: Eating dinner while watching the namesake doing podcasts with Shane Matthews, Terry Norvelle and Steve Russell in the venue.
“That is something I have not experienced in my career: A podcast booth inside the restaurant,” Heigl said.
Construction began in late 2019 and it is now in the final stages, Wehbe said.
“They will likely get their final inspection and a certificate of occupancy shortly,” said Angeline Jacobs, a planner with the Alachua County Department of Growth Management.
The coronavirus caused delays with construction as well as product availability.
“We had a glass company that we were buying all of our glasses from tell us that we had to take all of our glasses now because they were closing down,” Heigl said.
Wehbe said, “Originally we were going to open in November but we decided to slow things down to make sure that we had enough vaccinations.”
Some design changes were made to consider pandemic restrictions, such as moving the takeout and third-party delivery rooms to the back of the restaurant, so that the front is less crowded. In addition, the front room was enlarged to allow more space for distancing, Wehbe said.
According to FRED Economic Data, Alachua County’s unemployment rate has been declining since April 2020 and as of February was 3.2%. Once Spurrier’s finishes hiring its staff, the restaurant will be one of the top 20 employers in the county.
Speaking with his trademark enthusiasm, Spurrier said, “It’ll be a fun place and I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully the people in the area are also.”