When Daniel Todd, Sarah Gottesfeld and their business partners leased the old gas station at North Fourth Street and North Orlando Avenue in Cocoa Beach in 2018, their plan was to have a gas station with a beer bar and really good sandwiches.
As 4th Street Fillin Station approaches its fifth birthday, the restaurant and bar has turned into so much more. It’s the neighborhood backyard, a hangout for locals and tourists alike. So much so, the gastropub has outgrown its kitchen.
“We didn’t think it was going to be this busy,” Gottesfeld said of the restaurant. “The kitchen was for low volume.”
Work began Oct. 2 on an expansion that will grow the 11-by-13 kitchen to one that’s 40-by-40. Todd hopes to finish by Jan. 21, in time to celebrate that birthday.
Meanwhile, despite the construction, the 4th Street closed for only two weeks, having reopened after temporary measures were put in place to continue serving. The construction noise fades once in the inside dining area and out back, where guests will find a shady retreat and menu that hints of bigger things to come.
For now, food is prepared in three food trucks, each bigger and easier to work in than the original 4th Street kitchen.
There’s the 4th Street food truck, where much of the restaurant’s original menu — including tacos, bowls and street corn — is prepared.
An Asian street food truck produces the inventive and delicious crab rangoon nachos, chef and kitchen manager Will Byers’ take on the traditional crab rangoon. The Asian-inspired menu also includes a selection of meat, seafood and veggie skewers and a fried Korean-style hot chicken sandwich.
Breakfast dishes also are prepared in the Asian street food truck.
All things smokehouse come from the third truck, including tender ribs blanketed in the aroma of cherry wood, bourbon baked beans and smoked fish dip.
Byers is using the three mobile kitchens to experiment. His current favorite is a smash burger that’s gaining traction with customers. The new work space will offer an opportunity for more new dishes.
“I’m looking forward to it so much,” Byers said, who has been at 4th Street for three years. “We’ll be able to do some cool stuff out of it.”
4th Street, in the beginning
To understand how far 4th Street has come, it helps to look back at its beginning.
Todd, Gottesfeld and their partners leased the gas station and garage in April 2018. It was a working station, but they saw potential in the spacious, junk-filled backyard with a towering oak tree.
Where it all started:4th Street Fillin Station opens in Cocoa Beach: Fill your tank or your belly here
In May 2018, they started selling gas and renovations to turn the building into a restaurant began. The garage bays became an open-air dining room and bar with light fixtures made from tools and tables fashioned from what once were car lifts. They turned the backyard into a shady oasis with seating under that gorgeous oak and Giant Jenga to entertain young guests.
“It’s pretty kid-friendly,” Gootesfeld said. “We have kids.”
The only parts of the business under air conditioning were the kitchen, the small convenience store and the renovated restrooms.
When the restaurant opened in January 2019, food was prepared in a tiny kitchen and on a Big Green Egg charcoal grill out back. The bar served local beers, boutique wines and craft cocktails.
Fillin up on food, not gas
In December 2019, the partners bought the property and in January 2020, the gas pumps were removed. 4th Street became all about filling bellies, not gas tanks.
Then came the pandemic.
Todd credits a dessert bar, which was set up in the former convenience store, with getting the restaurant through the pandemic. People from the neighborhood loved walking to the restaurant and ordering decadent ice cream concoctions to-go, including boozy, adults-only shakes.
“COVID also pushed us into the food truck,” Todd said. Not knowing what the future held for sit-down restaurants, they bought the truck and rebuilt it.
4th Street’s open-air model turned out to be a major asset as restaurants began reopening during the pandemic. People felt more comfortable eating in a place cooled by ocean breezes rather than recycled air.
“We had groups coming from all over the county,” Todd said. “One family drove up from Miami.”
Future plans for the former filling station
The new kitchen will allow the restaurant to offer true dinner entrees. It also means food will come out quicker. For the staff, it will provide better working conditions.
Once that work is finished, Todd said, plans are in the works to repair the colorful canopy tha once covered the gas pumps. It was ripped off last year during Hurricane Nicole.
The kitchen is Phase 1 of expansion, Gottesfeld said.
“We can’t add more seats until we can make more food,” she said.
Phase 2 will increase seating from 202 to more than 300, Todd said, with additional seating under the canopy and a deck over the front of the dining area for private parties.
“In a perfect world, we’ll do Phase 2 this time next year,” he said.
The secret to 4th Street’s success
The place has come a long way since it opened as a gas station and beer bar with great sandwiches.
How do Todd and Gottesfeld explain its success?
“I think it’s the space,” Todd said. That oak tree and the back yard really do make it feel as comfortable and welcoming as a neighborhood block party.
There’s also plenty of room for large parties.
And then there’s the food. While it’s not a completely scratch kitchen, most of the sauces are made from scratch, Gottesfeld said. Plus the menu includes several vegan and vegetarian options, which makes it a great place for large groups with diverse tastes.
“The tourists really like 4th Street a lot,” she said.
“But we have a huge following of locals. People watched it being built.”
Suzy Fleming Leonard is a features journalist with more than three decades of experience. Reach her at email@example.com. Find her on Facebook: @SuzyFlemingLeonard or on Instagram: @SuzyLeonard.