ANNA MARIA -- Matt Wade couldn't shake the nostalgia of the days he worked at J. Burns' Pizza Shop as a 15-year-old in Lakeland.
He'd bus tables, wash dishes and occasionally make pizzas when the owner would let him.
"It was the place to go when you headed to the movies," Wade said.
The pizza shop, originally founded in 1965, was at the top of its game in the '80s, but by the time he graduated from high school in 1990, the shops closed or were sold off to other owners. He was sad to see it leave at the time.
"That's all I ever ate was J.Burns'," Wade said.
Wade revived the name and company in 2011 after some encouragement from his wife, and now has opened his third J.Burns' at 308 Pine Ave., Anna Maria.
The shop is known for its crispy, thin-crust St. Louis-style pizza where toppings are overloaded onto Provolone cheese, filled to the edge and cut in squares.
As Wade waited to gain the naming rights from the original owners, he set up a test kitchen to hone recipes inside his tire retreading business in Lakeland so he would be ready for a launch. The first Lakeland location was successful, which led to another in 2013.
The Anna Maria shop seemed like the natural choice after years of visiting here.
Wade and his wife of 21 years, Courtney, visited Anna Maria while they dated and their family vacationed here throughout the years. The family bought a house here three years ago because they love it so much, and the area has earned the moniker "Little Lakeland" from folks in Polk County because so many residents own second homes here or come for some rest and relaxation.
"You're never down here without running into someone from Lakeland or Polk County," he said.
Wade's son, Hunter Wade, was selected to run the Anna Maria shop after managing one of the Lakeland shops. The move worked out perfectly for Hunter, who is attending the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus to earn his hospitality management degree. Hunter Wade also worked as the head pizza chef at Island Gourmet Grill before coming to J.Burns'.
One of J.Burns' missions is to offer healthful choices for a fast casual shop. The pizza place offers gluten-free options, the meats are hormone- and preservative-free, and the bread is also preservative-free.
"All of our produce is local and never frozen. We always get it the day after it's cut, and it's super good," Hunter Wade said. The tomato sauce is made in-house and subs are lined with Boar's Head meats.
The signature sub is the Italian, featuring ham, Genoa salami, capicola, Provolone and mustard, Hunter said. J.Burns' also offers salads, garlic knots and ice cream sandwiches.
The island vibe is a nice change of pace, Hunter Wade added.
"Customers are more patient," he said. "Down here everyone's more relaxed and on vacation. It's a little easier to take our time to be specific with every order."
Soon, Anna Maria visitors don't even have to walk from the beach to get J.Burns'. The shop plans to start delivery service in about two weeks, delivering from Manatee Public Beach to points north, Hunter Wade said.
The Wades are also taking their time evaluating growth for the restaurant. The company recently hired a longtime employee of Lakeland-based Crispers, Jenny Mercer, who oversaw franchise development, training and new store openings for the last 12 years. Mercer will be in a similar role with J.Burns, Matt Wade said. After opening a third location, the remaining J.Burns' are planned to be franchise locations, he said.
"She'll be instrumental for growth for us," Matt Wade said.
J.Burns' is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays and closed Mondays. For more information, call 941-251-4070.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.