Sports bar is his latest foray

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SPRING HILL –
Sal Sessa misses the theater, oldies music, decadent dining and his younger brother.

He abandoned it all in because he needed to put an end to the strain of overseeing two stressful, detail-oriented businesses. He also wanted to help his son fulfill his dream of managing a sports bar.

Seventeen years ago, Sessa and his younger brother, Nick, opened the Show Palace in Hudson. Eleven years ago, they opened the Palace Grand in Spring Hill. He had the time of his life, but the time came for him to realize it was time for a change. Heart surgery has a tendency to change a person’s perspective.

“I had to get out of there,” said Sessa. “I couldn’t do it no more.”

In the old days, there were elaborate shows, banquets and special events. The men wore tuxedos and the women wore evening gowns. They feasted on filet mignon and stuffed flounder.

Sessa loved it all, especially a decade ago when his heart was healthier and the community was growing hand over fist.

Now he takes greater pleasure watching his family run his new business — Rookies Sports Bar and Grill. Sessa went from catering to the “Guys and Dolls” crowd to serving the Gators and Dolphins crowd.

Sessa said he didn’t care a lick about football until a couple of years ago.

His son, Jason Sessa, a self-described “sports nut,” couldn’t be more thrilled.

“This is more what I’m into,” he said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to open a sports bar.”

He has incorporated it all — fresh burgers and appetizers, beer tubes, Buzztime trivia and poker games, a gaming room, full-sized bar, big-screen televisions, outdoor seating, UFC events and private speakers.

The younger Sessa, 36, has worked for his dad and uncle for 20 years. He began working at his video store. He later worked at the family-owned skating rink and then at the Palace Grand and Show Palace.

“We’ve hit the market we’ve been looking for,” he said.

The restaurant is located at 3095 Anderson Snow Road — on the eastern fringe of Spring Hill.

Two restaurants have opened at that precise location and failed. Sal Sessa isn’t concerned. He is convinced he has the right formula.

“We get good people,” he said prior to Thursday’s lunch rush. “We couldn’t get near the place when we opened. It was flooded with people.”

He insisted relations between him and his younger brother remain strong. Fatigue and a desire for a change of pace led to his decision to do something else. Family drama was never a factor, he said.

“We’re happy for them,” said Nick Sessa, 49, who now co-owns the Show Palace and Palace Grand with professional doo-wop singer Tommy Marasciullo.

Marasciullo, a former Spring Hill fire commissioner, had the necessary cash flow to give the businesses a jolt, Sessa said.

His older brother said the decision to bring in Marasciullo was made after he announced his decision to sell his share to his brother.

“The move has been really, really good for all of us,” Nick Sessa said.

Jason Sessa declined to talk about Marisciullo replacing his father. He preferred to talk about his new business.

Sal Sessa preferred to do the same.

“I wanted to get out of there anyway,” he said. “I had a chance to get out and I took it. I have no problems with them. There’s no bad blood. People talk and they make up stories.”

Sal Sessa’s wife, Margaret, is the president. His son is the vice president and manager. His daughter, Michelle Beetz, is the secretary and treasurer.

He has six grandchildren, some of whom also work at the restaurant.

“I love it,” Sal Sessa said. “My kids had the vision of doing this.”

The restaurant’s head chef, Keith Erickson, who used to be the executive chef at Timber Pines, said he didn’t look to “reinvent the wheel” with the Rookies menu.

There is an extensive appetizers menu with an array of dipping sauces. Erickson called his chicken wings the best in town.

The burgers are fresh. Nothing is processed and little is frozen, he said.

Sal Sessa is new at the sports bar business, but that has given him a renewed enthusiasm.

He pointed to the beer tubes along the counter across from the bar. Customers fill them up with any one of the 14 beer selections on tap and fill their mugs at their table. Each one holds 100 ounces.

It’s another gimmick Sal Sessa never could have imagined incorporating at the upscale Palace Grand.

“I just had to buy four more of these things,” he said. “I didn’t know what they hell they were until I opened this place.”

wholt@hernandotoday.com (352) 544-5283