EXCLUSIVE — The management of Park Plaza Gardens, the venerable restaurant on Winter Park’s Park Avenue, will be taken over after the first of the year by a restaurant group headed by local restaurateur Manny Garcia. The management shift will be the first in what is expected to be several changes that will attempt to bring the restaurant back to its former glory as one of the region’s finest dining destinations. Mary Demetree is the restaurant’s owner.
Among the changes will be a major redesign of the dining area that will be spearheaded by local designer Raymond R. Schaefer of Maverick Architecture & Design, Orlando. Park Plaza Gardens’ dining room has always been distinctive for its ceiling of skylights, brick flooring and tall tree landscaping that gave diners the feel of eating al fresco while staying dry and cool indoors. The restaurant recently underwent a minor expansion of a dining alcove to accommodate more diners in a private setting.
Park Avenue is enjoying a resurgence as a premier dining destination with more than 20 restaurants in a span of just a few blocks. At one time, only a handful of restaurants lined the street. One of the few survivors from those early days is Park Plaza Gardens, which has been alternately praised and panned over the years. Past owners of the restaurant include Robert Earl, founder and CEO of Planet Hollywood. At one time the restaurant’s name was changed to Chef Justin’s Park Plaza Gardens to celebrate then-chef Justin Plank. The current executive chef is John Tan.
No time frame has been announced for the upcoming changes.
Manny Garcia is a well-known restaurateur whose past brands included Pebbles, Harvey’s Bistro and Manuel’s on the 28th. He is currently developing City Fire American Oven and has locations on Orlando’s Restaurant Row and in the Villages.