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Coastal cuisine is coming to this location on Browns Bridge Road
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Gainesville restaurateur Angel Retana is renovating the former Denny's location along Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville Wednesday, April 6, 2022, to open a sit-down restaurant called Soco Seafood Grill. The Denny's restaurant at the location closed in 2018. - photo by Scott Rogers

The curse of 1701 Browns Bridge Road may soon be broken.

After a series of failed restaurants shuttered at the same address — six within 20 years, to be exact — Gainesville restaurateur Angel Retana is breathing new life into old, neglected bones.

Abandoned since Denny’s vacated the property in late 2018, Retana is renovating the building to house his newest business venture: Soco Seafood Grill.

Retana is perhaps best known for his Atlanta Highway mainstays, El Carreton Mexican Taqueria and Gainesville Seafood Market & Eatery. While the vibe and quality of food served at Soco will be much like those at the latter, the menu items offered and their presentation will be “completely different.”

The forthcoming full-service restaurant and bar will feature coastal cuisine from the Deep South down to South America, including low country boils, ceviche and “literally everything in between,” Retana said. 

Due to kinks in the supply chain and availability of building materials, the restaurant doesn’t have a targeted open date at this time; Retana told The Times he’s eyeing May or June, but “nothing is set in stone.”

When the doors do open, Retana intends for Soco to be a hub for “good energy, great customer service and a down-to-earth place where you can have a nice glass of wine with a menu that, once you taste it, you fall in love.”

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Gainesville restaurateur Angel Retana tours his latest property Wednesday, April 6, 2022, where he plans to open a sit-down restaurant, Soco Seafood Grill. The property , along Browns Bridge Road, was most recently a Denny's location that closed in 2018. - photo by Scott Rogers

Having been part of the local foodscape for 27 years, Retana has seen Gainesville’s population — and palate — progressively diversify. Soco, he said, is a culinary celebration of that diversity, one he hopes will spark diners’ curiosity and expose them to cuisines they may not have considered trying before.

“Now our palates have changed so much, we’re willing to try different things,” he said. “Back in the day when I started my business (El Carreton), cilantro and avocado were not very popular. But now, the cultures are merging so much, especially here in Gainesville, and I think it’s important to highlight that. That’s the beauty of being a restaurateur, being able to highlight it.”

The eatery’s namesake also holds great meaning for Retana. Soco derives from Socorro, the first name of Retana’s mother, who also had deep ties to the restaurant industry and died when Retana was very young.

“Through the years as I started my career and my businesses, I always felt that energy and always felt like (my mom) was there,” Retana said. “When this opportunity came along, my wife said, ‘Why don’t you close the loop and name the place ‘Socorro?’ And that’s how we came to Soco.”

As for the foreboding rhetoric that the address is a direct flight to business failure, Retana said he doesn’t subscribe to such ideas.

“I don’t follow that, I don’t see that,” he said. “I think that I can bring something to the table — it might just change your perspective about that location and change your perspective culture-wise. All I know is one thing: My passion since day one is the same thing as today. I’m not really thinking about what happened before; I’m thinking about what can happen tomorrow. We’re just going to bring our best and let the (consumer) market decide. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

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Gainesville restaurateur Angel Retana is renovating the former Denny's location along Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville Wednesday, April 6, 2022, to open a sit-down restaurant called Soco Seafood Grill. The Denny's restaurant at the location closed in 2018. - photo by Scott Rogers