Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille may not have opened yet, but some of the biggest names in football have already visited. So have members of the University of Florida’s Class of 1967, who watched Gator quarterback Steve Spurrier kick that famous winning field goal against Auburn in 1966.
That very football sits behind glass in a museum inside Spurrier’s new Gainesville eatery, which the owners deem as “an immersive restaurant experience.”
Those owners and partners of the restaurant based at Celebration Pointe have struggled along with the rest of the area to fill positions on their team in order to officially open. So in the meantime, the venture has found ways to build its brand as a topnotch, highly engineered venue that caters to the football crowd and more.
According to partner and restaurant entrepreneur Freddie Wehbe—who owned, operated and grew the chain of Domino’s Pizza stores throughout the region—more than 4,500 visitors have been on his 75-minute guided tour of the restaurant.
That tour covers almost every detail about the operation, from square footage, to what country the plates come from, to an explanation on how a podcast room will serve as a broadcast hub when it’s not being used for dinner guests.
Visitors who have signed up online have waited weeks to get their turn.
Wehbe said the team is working to fully open by the end of July, but Spurrier’s has already catered nearly 100 private events at the restaurant’s rooftop bar—appropriately named Visors—in addition to scores of tours.
Throughout the first floor dining room areas and bar the Mid Century Modern (MCM) decor is simple, elegant and mostly earthtones.
The biggest splash of color greets visitors at the entrance and, according to Wehbe, the giant mosaic of Spurrier was crafted in Italy.
“It’s powerful when you come in,” Wehbe said. “And it’s the only orange and blue item in the restaurant.
Since the pandemic put emphasis on takeout and delivery services for stores and restaurants, Wehbe said Spurrier’s restaurant adapted to that reality. It features more open space for distancing in the main entrance, plus a special room for takeout and pickup with a back entrance to the restaurant so that dining patrons will not encounter the extra foot traffic.
“There’s only dining up front,” he said.
The tour makes a stop at the lounge area, which features a Ben Hill Griffin stadium sign replica, and a Bull Gator private dining room that seats 50 people and is surrounded by a display of football memorabilia.
The second dining room off the entrance includes a podcast room that Wehbe said is available to all media when Spurrier himself isn’t on the mic.
“All we ask is three mentions of the restaurant,” Wehbe said. “And when it’s not rented out, it’s a dining area for a table of five.”
A lot of research went into the design of the restaurant and the menu. Part of that design toned down how sound travels throughout the space.
“One problem today in the restaurant world is you can’t hear,” Wehbe said. “We designed it to allow for acoustics.”
Attention to detail abounds: The menu covers are made of football skin, while the plates are imported from Turkey.
The restaurant also aspires to become the spot for coffee and dessert.
“No restaurant in the area that has good dessert and coffee, so we hired a chef from West Africa to create a fresh lineup of 16 desserts,” Wehbe said, adding that the restaurant is partnering with Opus Coffee in Gainesville in the effort.
The kids menu will be healthier at the request of parents they surveyed, Wehbe said, listing filet mignon and Wahoo hotdogs as some of the choices.
The tour takes a route through the 3,800 square foot smart kitchen, which is wired with Wi-Fi. There, visitors get to hear from executive chef Mark Heigl and executive sous chef Dennis Kelly.
Heigl explains that he is working closely with local farmers and going over the products, such as lettuce: “We’re debating 21-day grow vs. 14-day grow,” he said.
Heigl hails from Pittsburgh and said he worked for the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta, then headed to Miami for 20 years.
“The pandemic gave me a chance to stop working,” he said. He came to the conclusion that Miami is too crowded so he took the job with Spurrier’s team.
Executive Sous Chef Kelly is from Boston and has worked throughout the United State, including Sonoma County and Healdsburg, California, and the Marriott in the high Rockies.
Kelly’s job is to take the recipes from Heigl and use his industrial engineering background to make the dishes consistent going out the door.
The final stop to the tour is on the top floor at Visors bar. Spurrier’s own collection of hundreds of visors that he has worn as a coach and golfer are on display.
His favorite visor, according to Wehbe, is the one Spurrier wore while coaching for South Carolina during his last game in the Swamp, when he beat Urban Meyer’s Gators.
And perhaps the detail of all details is when Wehbe the restrooms, which were designed by Spurrier and his wife Jerri. The downstairs restrooms are decorated with wallpaper covered with plays Coach Spurrier designed to win 23 different games.
The Xs and Os and notes are sketched out and even include the date and final score of those contests.
Spurrier’s upstairs bathrooms will take you right into the locker room.