John Khalil, the Orlando dentist who recently bought the storied Enzo’s on the Lake in Longwood, has acquired another waterfront property – the former Diesel’s Bar & Grill in Daytona Beach – and has tapped celebrated local chef Michael Collantes to develop the menu.
Khalil, who goes by Johnny, said his first choice for a name was already taken so for now the restaurant will be called Riverside Johnny’s. He’s hoping to have it open in time for Daytona’s Bike Week in March but said, “If it isn’t ready, we won’t launch.”
Collantes, whose omakase restaurant Soseki was awarded a star in last year’s inaugural Florida Michelin Guide, said in an interview Friday morning that he didn’t want to describe the cuisine of the new restaurant as “beach food” but that it would be more elevated. “It will be things you want to eat with a margarita in your hand.” He mentioned items such as calamari and fish tacos, smash burgers and a Viet-style crawfish boil. Collantes, who also owned the now-closed Taglish Filipino-American restaurant, added, “We want to bring some of the Pacific to the Atlantic.” (Kirk Mayer, the chef from Taglish, will move to the Daytona Beach kitchen.)
Or at least to the Intracoastal Waterway. The freestanding building sits on the water next to the Main Street Bridge on the beach side. Collantes said the property is in good shape (Diesel’s closed Nov. 1), and when he first walked in and saw the sunset view through the bay doors he thought, “This could be something special.”
Khalil said in an interview at Enzo’s Thursday that he hadn’t intended to buy another restaurant so soon. He had told his friend and business partner, Logan Berkowitz, a real estate professional, that he wanted a restaurant on the water; Berkowitz had heard that Enzo’s was for sale and brought it to Khalil’s attention. On the day they signed a letter of intent to sell some downtown properties they owned, including Treehouse Bar, Berkowitz called Khalil and told him about Diesel’s. After seeing it, Khalil said, “Let’s go for it.”
For Collantes, the location has an added benefit: it’s three blocks from his parents’ house and he can drop his kids off when he goes to work.