Bradenton restaurant Connection hopes to link Cuba, France through food

cschelle@bradenton.comApril 5, 2014 

BRADENTON -- A new restaurant in downtown Bradenton will be a little bit of Viva La France and Cuba Libre with a side of Opa.

Restaurateur John "Yanni" Zouroudis plans to open The Connection at 1207 Third Ave. W. next week at the former location of Havana Cabana Dos and Lucky Dogs. Zouroudis will be serving up crepes, Cuban sandwiches and Greek specialties.

"The place is going to be called The Connection, and I'm going to do a connection between Cuban food and French," Zouroudis told the Herald. Zouroudis plans to be open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and hopes to start Monday.

Zouroudis has a menu prepared of 40 varieties of sautéed crepes, with sweet ones made with Nutella as a base filling, and more filling ones with fruits and meat.

"I'm going to have seafood crepes, vegetarian crepes, chicken, turkey," he said.

His signature crepe is perhaps the French Rivera Crepe, with cheese, chicken, artichoke hearts and tomatoes in a white wine sauce.

"People eat with the ear and the eye," he said.

He also wants to keep some of the popular Cuban items served at Havana Cabana and add some Greek dishes.

"Greek food is tricky, so what I'm going to try to do once I create the clientele, I'm going to have Greek specialties, too," he said. "In the meantime I'm going to have simple everyday food that people know, like the gyro and spinach pie and the Greek salad."

Zouroudis is going to focus on hospitality and quick service for his full-service restaurant.

"People who work here, they are from different parts of the city, and I know I can contribute because they only have a few minutes to eat something or pick up something and go back to work," Zouroudis said.

Zouroudis is also going to focus on building relationships with his customers to know their preferences in each of his dishes.

"When I cook for somebody, I cook for this somebody," Zouroudis said with

his friendly Greek accent. "You come in here every day, I learn what you want, I will do it for you. I don't care how busy I am. When the plate comes to you, it'll be the way you want it."

Zouroudis has a good handle on the area, owning restaurants in Florida since 1989, spanning from Polk County to Sarasota, and he's working with Maria's Family Place in Bradenton Beach. One of his most recent restaurants in Sarasota, JnB Crepes, sold eight months ago and is now Alma's Kouzine in Sarasota Commons Plaza on Beneva Road. The owners kept most of his menu, too.

As for the Third Avenue restaurant space, Zouroudis knows he faces some challenges. The restaurant doesn't have an oven hood system, so he is limited to hot plates, sandwich presses and small griddles. The restaurant is also a bit hidden around the corner of Old Main Street.

John Droukas, who still owns Havana Cabana in Holmes Beach, said while business was good, operating two restaurants got to be too much for him. Havana Cabana Dos opened downtown in July 2013, a few months after Lucky Dogs closed in April.

Zouroudis plans on adding a hanging sign so folks can spot the restaurant walking from across the street. Inside, the restaurant is getting a fresh look and a new high counter has been installed. Overall, Zouroudis hopes his restaurant will succeed with customer service. After all, Zouroudis said, he comes from a land where Zeus was known for hospitality. "My secret is that I respect people, I love people," he said. "I respect the dollar they spend because they can easily go somewhere else and spend it."

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