Manatee-based Popi's Place family-owned restaurants expand by franchising

Bradenton-based family restaurant to franchise, add three locations in coming months

cschelle@bradenton.comSeptember 18, 2013 

MANATEE -- Even a big Greek family like the Amereses won't be able to stay in charge of all the new Popi's Places.

To fix that, the Amereses will start to franchise the family run restaurants when they open Popi's Place at Sarabay, 6515 14th St., in October.

The restaurant, in the former Home Style Buffet, will be owned by friends of the Ameres family, William Chaltis, son Philip Chaltis and son-in-law Chris Babroski, who attend church with them at St. Barbara's Greek Orthodox Church.

"Any time you can venture out in a proven business, obviously that shows that things are going good, and it's an exciting feeling to know that we're branching out the way we are," said George Ameres, son of founding Chef Popi Ameres.

This year has been a transformative period for the fam

ily restaurant beyond franchising.

Popi's Place eliminated the numbering on its restaurants to reflect their neighborhoods, Popi's Place Palmetto and Popi's Place Ellenton, for instance, were born. The original Popi's location at McKechnie Field, purchased by family friends, is expected to be renamed and feature a new menu.

"They want to branch out and be more independent," said Andy Ameres, another son and owner. "We're OK with that, so we're releasing them from that so they can be a family owned business for themselves. We wish them nothing but luck and success."

Another Popi's is planned in January on South Kings Avenue in Brandon. Christine Lowe, another family friend, will own that restaurant, George Ameres said. That will mark the second in Hillsborough County, after the Popi's Place Ruskin.

"We're not just throwing anybody into the mix just to sell franchises," said Andy Ameres "We're doing it where we're being selective with people who we can trust that are close to the family that understand our values and quality."

Each Popi's Place franchisee will be fully vetted, and will have to stick to the Popi's menu and brand, the family said. Chefs will have room for creativity in daily specials, George Ameres said.

The Brandon location is attractive because of the large population that loves to go out dining with their family and is dominated by corporate chains, so a family diner for the working class and senior citizens would be able to offer something different, he said.

Expect the family restaurants to start expanding north and south of Manatee, Andy Ameres said, as the Popi's brand has reached a saturation point in Manatee County.

"We don't want to compete against ourselves here," he said.

If things could go well enough, Popi's could be all over Florida, George Ameres said.

"My mom and dad started this in 1981, and to have the opportunity now to get across the state of Florida, who knows, maybe across the country, would show how hard work pays off," he said.

For now, however, the family has no intentions to go national.

"We're trying to keep things as local as we possibly can," he said.

It means a lot to the matriarch, Popi Ameres, to see her kids thrive.

"They're working hard, and I think they're going to be a success," she said.

The family itself is expanding. Andy Ameres married Kalli Peros, now Kalli Ameres, in August. The couple will be opening Popi's Place on the Ranch, 5820 Ranch Lake Blvd., Suite 102 in East Manatee, beside Walmart. That location is expected to open around Dec. 1, and will feature outdoor patio dining. The location faced delays, after it was expected to open in the spring, and was originally planned for 8745 State Road 70.

"It's going to be brand new, start to finish. We just finalized the design and got the permits, so it's totally going to be customized," Andy Ameres said. "It's going to be probably a little bit different from the other ones just because it's brand new."

The website, www.popisplace.com, is redesigned, and will soon feature daily specials. The phone system will be overhauled so callers can either select to listen to specials at each restaurant location or dial an option to speak directly with someone at the restaurant, Andy Ameres said.

As the business and family has grown since 1981, the Ameres family has managed to get along famously, avoiding large squabbles that could break down business and family relationships.

"Our key has been the unity between my brothers and I, and my parents. We just stuck together. We trusted one another. We've had each other's backs. We relieved each other for vacations and whatnot, and we just kept it really tight," Andy Ameres said. "Our weekly family meetings have helped out a lot, and we don't compete against each other with the businesses."

That's not to say there aren't disagreements.

"We have our bouts, but after five minutes, we're OK," Andy Ameres said.

The decision to franchise has been one of those difficult decisions, George Ameres said.

"As a family, we were split 50/50 for quite some time,' he said. "We had some family members who thought this is a great opportunity that we should look into, other people were hesitant because we are so well known and have such a good name that just to throw it out there is risky."

"It's a little bit scary," Popi Ameres said, adding that it's also an exciting time.

George Ameres agreed.

"I think knowing you're going into an area where you are already established, where people know who you are, is an added advantage," he said. "Going into an area where they don't know who you are is a challenge. Do we like the challenge? Absolutely."

The Brandon location should be helped by customers in Ruskin suggesting that Popi's open in Brandon, said Manny Ameres, the patriarch.

The family will be involved in-depth with the operations of the franchise locations and feel comfortable they'll have the control they need to keep the brand the way they envisioned.

The customers are like family, too, and they see 70 percent of clients three times a day at locations, Andy Ameres said.

"They can laugh, they can holler, they can just be themselves, and I think they appreciate that," he said. "They're not going to come in where it'll be pretentious, stuffy."

Without those folks looking for a large, homemade simple meal, or "mama's food," as Popi Ameres puts it, Popi's Place couldn't succeed.

"The only complaint you hear in our restaurant is too much food," Popi Ameres said, smiling. "That's the only complaint, and that's all right."

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

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