BRADENTON -- Tropical Smoothie Café franchisees hope to bring healthier food and beverage options to the U.S. 301 corridor.
Canadian couple Oliver and Lindsay Brama moved to the area in 2012 because they wanted a change of lifestyle and weather. They started out in Sarasota, and sold that shop so they could open in Bradenton, closer to their Ellenton home. The Main Street Sarasota café is still up and running.
A separate company, 101 Partners LLC, bought the empty lot at 1007 First St. E. in May 2014. Later that year they applied for a construction permit to build the 1,150- square-foot café with a drive-thru.
After finishing the building and hiring a staff of 15 people, the café passed its first health inspection Sept. 25. More than $200,000 was invested in the café, Oliver Brama said.
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Bradenton used to have a Tropical Smoothie Café on Cortez Road, but it closed sometime in 2007 or 2008, Brama said. The Bramas and President Andrew Jessen of Tropical Smoothie of Southwest Florida Inc. are confident this location will be better because of increased visibility, a higher traffic flow and the proximity to downtown Bradenton and Manatee Memorial Hospital.
Jessen oversees the operations of Tropical Smoothie Cafés from Manatee County south to Collier Coun
ty. Another five cafés are planned for the Sarasota area in the next five years, Jessen said.
Not all Tropical Smoothie Cafés have a drive thru, Jessen said. The closest Tropical Smoothie Cafés with drive thrus are in St. Petersburg. Brama wanted a drive thru at the Bradenton location because he said he knows some customers coming in off of the busy nearby highway don't always have time to park and stop in.
The café also serves food such as toasted wraps and sandwiches, flatbreads, tacos and salads. The newest item on the Tropical Smoothie Café menu are the Super Grain Bowls, featuring quinoa, spinach and grilled chicken. Certain Tropical Smoothie Café menu items can be made with Beyond Meat chicken-free vegetarian strips to suit a meat-free lifestyle.
Jessen said the company is working to make sure customers are aware of the fresh-prepared food options at Tropical Smoothie Café.
"Our biggest challenge is definitely letting people know we sell food," Jessen said. New Tropical Smoothie Cafés are designed to put less emphasis on the smoothies and are modeled on a "beach cottage look." The opening of a Bradenton café on Wednesday marks the 448th Tropical Smoothie Café in the nation.
The new look debuted about a year ago and Tropical Smoothie Café began serving food in 1997. Tables no longer have the fruit-focused design. Soon all Tropical Smoothie Cafés nationwide will follow the more streamlined design, he said.
Though the company wants its franchise cafés to focus more on the food menu, it introduces new smoothies on a regular basis. The Island Green Smoothie, made with spinach, kale, pineapple, mango and banana is one of the most popular selections "by far," Jessen said.
All of the 15 new hires are picking up the café's operations "really well so far," Brama said. One employee, Miranda Fernandez, a longtime Bradenton resident, said she stumbled on the Craigslist job listing and was happy to find employment in a "healthier environment."
"My last job was at Subway and it was unhealthy," Fernandez said. "Here I can learn a lot about nutrition and making my body healthier."
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter @jayohday.