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Who owns this joint?
Andrew Bunin and Mark Phelps (like the swimmer, same body type too)
Tell us a little about both your personal and professional backgrounds.
Personal and professional. Let’s go with professional first. When Mark graduated college from the University of Wyoming with a business degree, he felt he should take it to California and the first job he got was as a bar manager in San Diego. As for me, I used to lay carpet with my Uncle Michael and hated it, so I was in search of a job that did not involve crawling around on the floor all day. I know Mark did a little work on some oil wells back in Wyoming and I guess we both worked in restaurants in our hometowns growing up. For personal, we both live in Cocoa Beach. Mark is married to Stacy, a collegiate top 100 women’s tennis player back at the U and they have two boys, OP and OP2. I live with my girlfriend and have two boys as well.
How did you come up with the concept for your restaurant? How long did it take you to perfect it?
The concept for Sandbar Sports Grill pretty much came to us. They say do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Well, we both like to be the host of a party, and we both like sports. When we bought Castaways, it was a long time beach bar in Cocoa Beach. We incorporated our concept mixed with the beach, threw in some bands and some great specials and the town has really enjoyed the product thus far. As far as perfecting it, as you know nothing is perfect in life. Every day in the restaurant business is a challenge. When we come to work we try to play the perfect game. I joke with my employees about the 95 Devils (my favorite all time team), which is a great TEAM. Everyone does their job! The payoff is seeing all the people enjoying themselves in my restaurant. When you have days like that it seems perfect!
How did you two pair up to open a restaurant?
We paired up back in 1994 in a bar called Billy Bones in Pacific Beach San Diego. Mark was the bar manager and I got hired as the cook. Mark and I spent many of nights rebuilding an old rundown bar and turned it into Schooners Bar and Grill. It soon became a hot spot just off Garnet Ave. in PB. After working at a few other bars on Garnet we got hooked up with Eric Leitstein and Joey Longo and opened up Canes Bar and Grill in Mission Beach. We were the second largest music venue in San Diego at the time and saw many acts on their way up and on their way down. Eric and Joe learned from Moose McGillycuddy‘s and we learned from them. Next we opened an Irish bar in Pasadena California, called McMurphy’s Tavern. Mark was the general manager and I was his bartender. In 2000, I moved back to Miami with Joe and opened up what we thought to be the next Cane’s Bar and Grill but the University of Miami had that copyrighted. So one day Joe and I were at the Sandbar in Key Biscayne and looked at each other and said “What about Sandbar?“ and it was invented! About a year later Mark then joined the team in Miami, but this time I was his boss and he was my bartender. After the 2004 hurricanes it just so happened our realtor’s mother from Miami lived across the street from the pier when she came up here to help. She saw that Castaways was for sale and it was time for Mark and I to go out on our own.
What inspired you to open up a restaurant?
Well, like I said this is pretty much all we’ve done for the past 15 years. We were lucky to work for people that let us run their business like it was our own and make some mistakes with their money (like how the Sandbar Koozie came about). But we saw the quality of life that owning your own business gives you, plus the opportunity to do something we really enjoy. I mean we’re the host of a party everyday!!
Which dish or recipe are you most proud of?
The obvious answer here would be the fish taco. But honestly I am proud of our entire menu, with the unique items like gator tail tacos and conch fritters. Our burgers and pizza are hidden gems in this town. Our salads are giant and fresh. And as far as seafood dishes go, I’ll put our steamed shrimp with seafood blend against any in town. I love to see the look on people’s faces when I put an order of nachos down in front of them. I get that WOW effect I’m always looking for.
Tell us what it is about your restaurant that sets you apart from the rest.
The thing that sets us apart is what I like to call “The Action”. We feel people want to be entertained. They want a reason to come into your restaurant. Then others also want a comfortable environment and a friendly staff, where you can come in by yourself or with a large group and always leave with a smile. That’s what sets us apart; the live music, the sports, the specials, and of course, the people.
What’s your favorite party you’ve ever hosted?
Over the years, Mark and I have hosted so many fun parties — from being the afterparty for Prince and having to get him purple M&Ms back in San Diego, to the Rose Bowl games and St. Patrick’s Day parties at McMurphys Tavern, and of course UM’s National Championship and that Jeremy Shockey touchdown to beat FSU down in Miami. But here in Cocoa Beach we have so many fun events — of course Mark Longnecker’s Dub Massive party is huge every year, and our first Sandbarapalooza comes to mind. At New School Dropouts, Rockstock we had 20 bands over a weekend, and of course the 3-pound burrito eating contest every Cinco de Mayo is always on the top of my list!
What is something on your bucket list?
Although I’ve been living by the beach for many years, I would not call myself a surfer by any means. As far as a bucket list goes I would love to get into a barrel one day. As for Mark, he would like it for me to stop being a pain in his butt (see the Billboard on 520 and the City Bus I put his picture on).
What’s your favorite perk of being a restauranteur?
There are many perks to owning a restaurant — you never have to bring lunch to work LOL! We are very lucky that we have probably the best management staff in town. They allow Mark and I the freedom to go visit our Key West location and spend time with our families.
Mark replies king crab legs. For me, I would keep it a simple tuna fish on a toasted bagel with steak fries and Heines ketchup.
Where do you spend your time when you’re not running one of the most exciting restaurants on the Space Coast?
Like I said, when we’re not at Sandbar we are usually with our families. I can most likely be found at the Space Coast Iceplex either playing an ice hockey game or helping coach the kids. I asked Mark what he does in his spare time and he reminded me he enjoys shooting guns.
Any upcoming events or plans for the future?
Sandbar always has events going on, where should I start? There’s the Conor McGregor UFC fight on the 6th, and we have our 13th Annual Okto-Beer-Fest to help raise money for the Space Coast sled hockey team on Saturday, the 20th. Our Country Hoedown is on the 27th and the Jam Halloween contest is on the 31st. November 21 is our wing eating contest and then our Reggae New Year’s Eve, and then back at it with Dub Massive on 1/26/19.