Hardwood Smokehouse previous location

Hardwood Smokehouse, which used to be located at 508 N. Citrus Ave. (pictured above) until a fire heavily damaged the restaurant, will soon be opening up in a new location — the Crystal River Mall.

The Hardwood Smokehouse is rising from the ashes of a March fire but if folks want to order their favorite barbecue items they will have to go to its new location at the Crystal River Mall.

Owner Rich Lucy said when the landlord at his former Citrus Avenue location — where he’d been for about a year and a half — decided not to lease anymore, he looked at other options. 

Lucy had already been doing site sales at the Crystal River Mall and, after talking frequently with the mall’s owner, one thing led to another and he agreed to lease an empty storefront there.

“We just happened to luck into the mall,” Lucy said.

No date has been set for opening.

Lucy said he’s familiar with the mall’s problems in finding tenants and has been told that maybe he should look elsewhere. But he doesn’t agree. He said he gets about a dozen people each day who already make the 40-minute trip to his Ocala restaurant.

So what’s a mile down the road to the mall?, Lucy asked. 

“I have a huge loyal following,” he said. “I know they’ll come. I think the Crystal River Mall has had a stroke of bad luck with major tenants leaving. (Mall manager Millie Bresnahan’s) trying her hardest to get the spots in there filled.”

The mall location is 300 square feet larger than the former spot and the bar area is also bigger. Bresnahan said he will be allowed to keep certain hours and leave the restaurant open later.

Lucy said he salvaged some of the items from the old Hardwood Smokehouse when it burned down and they will be on display at the new site. The design and color scheme will look the same. Many of the former employees have been rehired, rounding out his 30-person staff. He will probably be hiring 15-20 more folks eventually.

“The inside will look very similar to Citrus Avenue,” he said.

But Lucy is rolling out a new menu with the reopening.

“We’re working with the city on permitting so that we can move forward,” Bresnahan said. “They’re ready to go and they’re anxious to get back in business.”

Bresnahan said Lucy signed a multi-year lease to move into the vacant 3,600-square-foot spot formerly occupied by the old Gabby’s Restaurant near the front entrance.

Bresnahan believes the Hardwood Smokehouse has a big local following that should bring people to the mall. 

Chase Palms, who owns the building formerly occupied by the Hardwood Smokehouse, said he is in the process of selling that building to someone who plans to turn it into a steak and seafood restaurant.

A fire that state investigators deemed accidental damaged the Hardwood Smokehouse BBQ at 508 N. Citrus Ave. on March 23 and it’s been closed since.

The fire occurred around 8 p.m. in the kitchen while diners were still eating, forcing staff to evacuate the building. No one was injured. Damage was contained to the kitchen and bar area.

This news comes on the heels of an announcement last week that local businessman David Perry will open an indoor entertainment center called Just Amuse Me! In the vacant Kmart.

Bresnahan said these two new additions are big “gets” for the mall.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “Once we get them both open and going, it’s just a matter of time before we fill the place.”

She said these new tenants represent a “game-changer” because both are local operations vested in the community and not out-of-state retail chains.

“These are people who live and breathe Crystal River who are making a commitment to this facility,” Bresnahan said.

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Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com.

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