Lucas Herraiz, undeterred by pandemic challenges, believes a Japanese-style karaoke club will top the charts in St. Petersburg’s eclectic Grand Central District.
Although Tampa Bay’s tourism and hospitality industry staggers along under operating restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, a St. Petersburg entrepreneur is forging ahead with plans to open a karaoke club and restaurant in the Sunshine City’s Grand Central District.
Lucas Herraiz, a restaurateur who hails from France, signed a lease for 2324 Central Ave., which had been occupied by a Taco Bus restaurant. He plans to launch LALA St. Pete there, a 4,500-square-foot establishment inspired by the wildly popular private karaoke rooms in Japan becoming increasingly prevalent in Europe.
“In September 2019, I visited Paris for the first time in two or three years,” Herraiz says. “I joined some friends in a bar that was a brand new concept, a sophisticated concept that combined cocktails and private karaoke rooms. I found the idea amazing.”
'The good thing [about LALA] is you can rent a private room for just you and your friends or you and your family. It’s a great addition, especially during COVID-19.' Lucas Herraiz, founder of LALA karaoke club and restaurant
Upon returning to Florida, Herraiz, 37, looked into the concept a little more and, determining there was a gap in the marketplace, decided to pursue it. He sold Tikanis, a west St. Petersburg pizza-and-wings restaurant that he owned and operated, and in March leased the space on Central that will become LALA sometime in early 2021, when St. Petersburg construction company MC2 completes the buildout of a design by architecture firm PLACE, also based in St. Pete.
But with COVID-19 cases again on the rise, forcing restaurants and bars to operate with reduced capacity and other measures put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus, Herraiz picked a risky time to sing this song. Another challenge: Will Floridians flock to private karaoke rooms with the same enthusiasm as the Japanese and French?
“We will have a lot of protocols in place,” Herraiz says. “We will sanitize the rooms.”
Even though it involves people congregating together in enclosed spaces, LALA, he believes, could actually be an ideal concept for the current social zeitgeist, which has seen people limit their social gatherings to small, carefully chosen “pods” made up of trusted friends and family members.
“The American people are very positive by nature,” Herraiz says. “People are going out, trying to get their lives back on track, but of course with all of the protocols, which is fine because we need to be safe. The good thing [about LALA] is you can rent a private room for just you and your friends or you and your family. It’s a great addition, especially during COVID-19.”
Karaoke rooms can rent for up to $50 an hour, but Herraiz has yet to finalize LALA’s pricing structure. He says the venue will offer seven rooms, each with a different theme. Capacity will range from five to 20 people.
The establishment’s full-service restaurant will offer a French- and Mediterranean-themed menu with appetizers priced between $10 and $12 and entrees around $20-$25. Guests won’t have to book a karaoke room to eat at the restaurant or drink at the bar.
Herraiz declines to disclose the budget for the project but says he has a silent partner as well as the backing of Kevin Milkey, who owns the property. Milkey, a former executive vice president at American Strategic Insurance Corp., is building a brewery called Grand Central Brewhouse right next door to LALA, and the two establishments will share a beer garden situated between them.
“We’re going to provide the food for the brewery,” Herraiz says, adding he expects the LALA/GCB combo to be a big draw, especially given the recent implementation of an e-scooter program that will make it easier for people to get from downtown St. Pete to the Grand Central District without having to jump in a car or take a long walk.
“I love Grand Central,” he says. “It’s really popping right now, with a lot of new businesses. It’s a great location, really open, really wide. A lot of traffic is coming to the Grand Central District.”
Herraiz says he intends to market LALA to a wide range of customers, not just young partygoers. It will be open from 11 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends.
“We want it to be a place for all generations,” he says. “In the daytime, we will be kid-friendly, hosting birthday parties in the afternoon, stuff like that. At night time it will be more for adults, more sophisticated.”
Warm up your vocal cords, Tampa Bay.
(This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Lucas Herraiz's name.)