Poppo's taco shop brings California feel to Anna Maria

cschelle@bradenton.comAugust 29, 2013 

ANNA MARIA -- At Poppo's Taqueria, it's all natural, and all in the family.

Three brothers -- Casey, John and Patrick Coleman -- along with John's wife Nicole and Patrick's girlfriend Rowen Beals, are all bringing a part of California to Anna Maria at the taco shop, which opened in February.

Poppo's, 212 C Pine Ave., features organic and hormone-free food, sodas with real sugar and vegan options, too, as part of its mission to be green and good with a little dash of surprise in the food.

"It's not something you come in expecting or even wanting, but once you come in and had it, you're happy it's the way we did it," Patrick Coleman said. "I want the experience to be new, surprising and delicious."

The menu borrows from San Francisco and Mexican flavors, where instead of relying on chili powders, it's more so about cumin, coriander and layered, subtle flavors. Patrick says he spent a good two to three months to develop a series of recipes that he continues to try to improve upon. The only thing you won't find is canned food.

"You want it to be street food, you want it to be accessible for everyone, but each bite you want something that's kind of building on everything else you got going on," Coleman said.

That inspiration traveled with the family from their hometown of Petaluma, Calif.

"We would always cook Mexican food on Sundays for Sunday family dinner -- it's our favorite food," Nicole Coleman said. "We would have friends over and people would rave over the food. We thought, 'Oh man, this is such a simple concept and our food's delicious. We should open a place.' And we kind of went for it."

The restaurant might never have happened if it wasn't for the family getting lost on a trip.

"We were on a little road trip and kind of got lost and ended up on this island, and they just loved it and thought it was beautiful," Patrick Coleman said.

His grandfather, whose nickname was Poppo, was a former Boston Globe reporter who moved to the area first with his wife. Casey, two other brothers and their parents, Mike and Jane Coleman, the contractor for the Pine Avenue Restoration, moved to the area seven years ago. John and his wife came about three years ago and Patrick and Rowen were the last to join.

"We finished up school and we were moving out to Portland, Ore., and we came down here to chill out for a minute, go home and get our bearings, and the taqueria became a real option," Patrick Coleman

said.

Thanks to the family's background in construction, they were able to do their own tile work, build a counter top and bar area out of Myakka City cyprus from an old barn, and make their own chairs from mahogany from a Sarasota salvage yard. The bar front also features old Anna Maria City Pier planks, and they found some lockers the Anna Maria police were throwing away for added measure. Brother Ehren Coleman also shipped a pair of driftwood benches he made from Washington state.

They are careful about everything that goes into the restaurant.

The meats are hormone- and antibiotic-free, plus vegans have the option of asking for Tempeh. More than 90 percent of the produce used is organic, too, Patrick Coleman said.

The shop is set up in a Chipotle-like line, where diners pick their tortilla vessel, protein, sauce and toppings, and make their way to the refreshments and register. Just take a peek at the chalkboard or rack card to guide you through the line, Nicole Coleman said.

Among the veggies, you'll find some differences, like honey lime red cabbage instead of lettuce.

"We just want everything to have its own unique flavor, and we also want to make it difficult to make a bad combination," Patrick Coleman said. "You are making your own food and we want to give your own choice to do that, but we want to make sure it tastes good."

Not sure what to put on your taco? You can order the Poppo's Taco for $3.50 or Classic Taco for $2 with a choice of protein along with pre-fixe toppings and sauce. The quesadillas are also popular, he said.

All the sodas -- with the exception of bottled Coca-Cola -- are free of high fructose corn syrup. The taco shop is in the midst of phasing out the lone Coke offering in favor of Virgil's soda. The fountain drinks are made by Fountainhead Gourmet Craft Sodas from Tampa and use real sugar.

"The American companies for the most part have switched over to using fructose and that just has a different flavor than sugar does, so it won't be quite what you're expecting, but it's going to be similar," Patrick Coleman said.

So many healthful affordable options are difficult to find, but Poppo's is proving that businesses can offer affordable organic food while making a profit. A basic burrito with a drink and chips is about $11.60.

"We had to stay competitive with the market, but we wanted to stay in tune with our own food principles, and make what we would eat ourselves," he said.

Lunches continue to be fairly busy during the slowest time of the year for business, but during peak season, it wouldn't be uncommon to see a line out the door for lunch and dinner, he said.

"I would love to spread the word we're really bringing back real food, real homemade food like the olden days," Nicole Coleman said.

And if that means a few pennies will have to slide by in the process, they're OK with that.

"I eat in here every day, and I need to be working in a place that I feel is doing the right thing and be passionate about what we're doing. And if it's just about getting the best bottom line that we can, then that's not very exciting to me," Patrick Coleman said.

Poppo's Taqueria is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Sundays; closed Tuesdays.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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