Dave Shiplett, one of the most celebrated chefs in Manatee County, will finally have a restaurant in downtown Bradenton. The Friendly City native has been operating Soma Diner, final day July 26, for the past four years in a hard-to-find building east of downtown. When he opens Soma Creek Side in September, in the larger space occupying the first floor of the Bradenton Financial Center, it will put Shiplett smack dab in the middle of downtown.
He’ll still be south of Manatee Avenue – that's how Soma got its name – but just a short stroll from bustling Old Main Street, the renowned Village of the Arts and the newly renovated, multi-million dollar attraction Riverwalk. Soma Creek Side, in the former home of Jennifer’s Café, will also be just across the street from where Shiplett attended preschool. In addition, it's a short walk from his house in the Historic Ware’s Creek Neighborhood.
“I love owning a restaurant in my hometown,” Shiplett says while preparing for a weekday lunch crowd. “That’s what I like about going downtown; it’s always been the center of the universe to me. Growing up, it’s where the theater was and all the best restaurants and I’ve just had a burning desire to be downtown, to be part of it, to be back to that place.”
Shiplett honed his culinary skills in California before becoming a star chef at the old Poseidon on Longboat Key and then Ezra in West Bradenton. Community leaders are enthusiastic about him operating a restaurant downtown.
"He’s an amazing chef, an artist in the kitchen, and it's really exciting to get him downtown,” says David Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority. “It also continues to demonstrate that Bradenton is going through a renaissance and restaurateurs like Dave are a big component of that.”
Shiplett has made Soma Diner, 616 10th St. E., a foodie destination by creating masterworks out of everything from fresh, locally caught fish to truck-stop favorites. Last year, for instance, more than 350 guests gathered for the fourth annual Chowdown for Charity to raise money for culinary education in local schools. The event at the Riverhouse at Regatta Pointe in Palmetto featured dishes by chefs representing Manatee County’s finest restaurants. Shiplett won the Judge's Choice award for a creation he calls “Redneck Surf & Turf,” which will likely be found on his menu at Soma Creek Side.
“I’m still going to be just as eclectic as I’ve ever been with a lot of familiar stuff but, like with each of my restaurants, signature stuff,” Shiplett says. “I’ll still be doing plenty of Southern redneck stuff and I really have some cool new stuff, too. I’ve been researching items for downtown for awhile.”
The downtown location at 1401 Manatee Avenue West should mean a larger lunch crowd for Shiplett. Morgan Stanley shares Bradenton Financial Center space with Soma and there's City Hall, Manatee County and numerous other offices filled with hungry workers nearby.
“We’re going to have innovative sandwiches and great salads but not the same thing you’re going to see at other restaurants around town,” Shiplett says. “I march to a different drummer”
Citing the churches nearby, Shiplett also plans to revive Sunday brunch with his Soma Benedict.
“Instead of bread I use fried green tomatoes,” he says. “Then there’s the poached egg, crab cake and my homemade hollandaise sauce – people love it.”
Shiplett will continue serving smart, reasonably priced beer and wine selections at the new location. He has a couple private events scheduled for September and then plans to open for lunch that month with dinner starting in October. He’s confident the move will appeal to his West Manatee clientele while not alienating his regulars from east of U.S. 301.
“A lot of the people in the city have wanted me to go downtown,” Shiplett says. “I’m really hoping it makes it easier for West Bradenton and island people to see me without saying goodbye to the people to the east, who I think will be happy to drive the extra three minutes.”
He added, “I’m 54 and thinking about the long term and downtown Bradenton is where I want to be.”
Soma Diner; 616 10th St. E., Bradenton; 748-0002; call for hours.
Soma Creek Side; 1401 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton; 748-0002; check back here for opening date or call.