The BISTRO BUILDER
BY KERRY FIRTH
One of Vero's most beloved chefs is jumping back into the restaurant business after a six-month hiatus. Kitty Wagner seems to have the magic touch or more realistically the culinary expertise and business acumen to create dining experiences that are instantly embraced and endeared. Her new venture, Kitty's, a casual neighborhood bistro, will open on Royal Palm Pointe in Vero Beach early in 2022, featuring a light French and Mediterranean inspired cuisine with abundant fresh vegetables and fruits.
"Kitty's is a smaller space than my previous restaurants so it will be more intimate and friendly," Wagner explained. "I plan on having a chalkboard menu so I can change the selections daily and an open kitchen so my guests can see me cooking on a single stove. There will be a little bar area with beer and wine and eventually I'll have an outdoor waterfront patio."
While most restaurants on Royal Palm Pointe are configured to have seating in front and the kitchen and bathrooms in the back, they don't utilize the waterfront behind the building. Wagner has reversed her floor plan so the diners can look out on the cove and see the manatees and dolphins play while they eat.
"I've added windows everywhere possible to open up the small space and now even I can see the water while I'm cooking," Wagner added excitedly.
Wagner has opened four successful restaurants in the past two decades. Her first restaurant, opened in Vero in 2003, was the popular Blue Starfish where patrons enjoyed beachside fine dining. Then in 2006, she opened Undertow in downtown Vero, an eclectic, casual restaurant where patrons were known to sometimes dance on the bar. In 2011, she returned beachside and opened Blue Star Wine Bar that quickly became a comfortable gathering place and, after losing that lease in 2014, she returned downtown with fine dining at the Blue Star Brasserie.
Wagner didn't grow up wanting to be a chef. She went to college to become a large animal veterinarian. During her third year she started working at a French restaurant as a busgirl and one day immigration came in and cleared the kitchen of all the French employees because they had overstayed their tourist visas. The owner delegated the making of pastries to Wagner and within three months she decided that's what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Now she jokes that because of immigration she not only became a chef and instead of saving cows she now cooks them.
"I love building businesses and trying new things," Wagner exclaimed. "After the pandemic forced us to close the Blue Star Brasserie, I took some time off and went sailing. But once I got back on solid ground I knew it was time to dive back into a new venture. I can't wait to open Kitty's and I'm looking forward to a great season."
Background/Training: Trained under a German master chef and did apprenticeship programs through the American Culinary Federation.
Most popular dish: Maine lobster risotto served with a leek and shiitake mushroom risotto
Why I love being a chef: "I get to drink all these amazing wines and I get to buy all this amazing food and put it all together. I love talking to people, making them happy and yes, I love to eat!"