Gulfport’s Waterfront Breeze Café announced its permanent closure today, citing code and permitting obstacles that were too expensive for them to overcome.
Cathy Salustri

The Breeze Waterfront Cafe has closed permanently.

The owners announced this move Sept. 16 on the restaurant’s Facebook page, one day after a meeting with the Gulfport Site Plan Review Committee, at which most of the news they received was not good.

Here’s the statement the owners posted on social media:

“We are very sorry to announce that The Breeze Waterfront Cafe will be permanently closed.  We put a lot of effort, time and investment to do the things right and meet all the requirements of City of Gulfport but unfortunately there is a lot of obstacles in the way and we decided that we can not proceed with the costly investments as a small family owned business.  We appreciate all your support. It was a great two years in which we were able to meet so many amazing people. Thank you again. We love each one of you and we will miss you.”

Within about four hours, that post received more than 40 comments from disappointed customers who lamented the loss of their favorite breakfast spot. The owners had posted occasionally in recent months about their ongoing attempts at renovation and reopening, which many customers followed with anticipation.

More than a dozen of those supporters made their way to Gulfport City Hall the morning of Sept. 15 for the Site Plan Committee meeting, a public meeting that did not include a public hearing or any outside comment, as the only interaction was between the applicant and City staff. They were surprised and disappointed when they heard about the obstacles they would have to clear to get the establishment’s doors open again.

Frank Keller, the owner and applicant, did not attend the meeting. His representative said he had to leave the country for an emergency just a few days earlier.

Keller applied for a site plan amendment for the proposed conversion of a bed and breakfast use to a mixed-use development with a bed and breakfast as well as a restaurant. According to City code, a bed and breakfast cannot cook and serve meals for outside patrons who are not overnight guests.

Before the discussion of the applications, a City staffer laid out some of the history of the site. The previous owner, Lori Rosso, operated a bed and breakfast, doing the cooking herself, with only a panini press and a crepe maker. She applied for a variance because she wanted to put in another bathroom and change from doing her own cooking to having the food catered. The City approved that change. She also talked about making the catered food available to the public, which would be a restaurant use, but never went through the process of getting that approved.

From a zoning standpoint, there is no problem with the bed and breakfast because the City Council approved that use, according to City staff. The issues lie with the process of bringing the building itself up to appropriate standards, and that was where the obstacles piled up.

Perhaps the biggest single problem is that because it was proposed as mixed-use with one of the uses being residential, it would be required to have sprinklers installed for fire protection. One of the City’s public works officials pointed out that this is why the previous owner never followed through with a restaurant use application – because there’s not enough water readily available for the sprinkler system. That is still the case. A water line would have to be installed all the way from 58th Street – at the applicant’s expense.

“The previous owner wanted to do pretty much the same thing you want to do, but it just wasn’t cost-effective,” he said. “It would be very expensive.”

Only a few specific things related to the building itself were mentioned, but it was pointed out that because the property is in a flood zone, it cannot be improved more than 50% of the building’s total value without having to bring the entire building up to code. In this case, that would mean elevating the building.

“There are some pretty big building issues that need to be addressed,” a City official told Keller’s representative.

Judging from the announcement that came the next day, those issues were simply too big to overcome.

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