SARASOTA -- The Dennis family will score a hat trick with their third Joey D's Chicago Style Eatery & Pizzeria when it opens next month in Sarasota.
Bradenton-based Joey D's is taking over the former Cafe Amalfi at 211 N. Tamiami Trail, beside The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. This marks the family's second Sarasota location to open within a year. In late 2013, they opened at 3811 Kenny Drive, off of Cattlemen and Bee Ridge roads. That location was also a former Cafe Amalfi.
Co-owner Bobby Dennis says the new restaurant offers a central location -- eight miles from each location -- and is in the perfect spot to capitalize on orders from hotel guests.
"We used to deliver to the Hyatt and the Ritz, and now that it's right here, it's even more convenient," Dennis said. "Plus they have the new Westin hotel being built right beside here."
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Joey D's has been a Bradenton staple on Cortez Road and 14th Street West since 2004 with native Chicagoans Bobby and Maria Dennis and Bobby's brother Tommy Dennis. The restaurants are big on Chicago flavors, including Vienna Beef dogs, Italian beef, deep dish pizza and more. Up until their move to Manatee County, the family operated a pizzeria in Minneapolis for 10 years.
The Tamiami Trail location is just feet away from drivers turning onto the Ringling Bridge on their way to St. Armands and Longboat Key. Just putting the Joey D's delivery vans
out front was enough for their phones to already be busy without being open, Dennis said.
"Coming out here is like being on stage," Dennis said. "Everyone's like beep-beep-beep-beep. We put the cars here for three days now and everyone's blowing up the phone both in Bradenton and Sarasota asking, 'When are you going to open?'"
The answer: hopefully by Christmastime. While the restaurant was a pizza place, the space was gutted, leaving the brothers to clean it up and bring in new equipment. They figure they will open in about 45 days.
Joey D's is named after their brother Joey, a budding hockey player as a kid who passed away at age 32 in 2000 from a rare disease called Cockayne syndrome. The genetic disorder makes it difficult to gain weight and causes stunted growth. The brothers spent a lot of their time around hockey, especially Tommy Dennis who played goalie in the minor leagues. It's no surprise that the restaurants are heavy on Chicago Blackhawks memorabilia, along with keepsakes from the Chicago Bears, Cubs, Bulls and White Sox.
Somehow, they still have enough memorabilia for another restaurant.
Brother Tommy's NHL and MLB friends continue to donate memorabilia, as well as customers from Chicago and beer distributor Gold Coast Eagle.
"We've got a ton," Dennis said. "We got a warehouse full of stuff."
The cozy space is 2,500 square feet smaller than the other Sarasota restaurant, Dennis said, and 1,500 square feet smaller than the Bradenton location. The same menu will be offered at the new restaurant.
"We're going to do a lot of delivery and pick-up service," Tommy Dennis said. "We have great friends in the Ritz-Carlton and the Hyatt, and they're going to push a lot of people toward us."
The new location will also be a partnership with longtime family friend Terry Gutowski of Sarasota, Dennis said. Gutowski became a part-owner with the brothers for the Kenny Drive restaurant.
No other locations are in the works at this time, Bobby Dennis said. Last year, the brothers said they have a long-term growth strategy of opening additional Joey D's in the area, including in Ellenton.
As for the former owner of both Cafe Amalfis, John D'Atria was being investigated for failure to pay and file sales taxes collected from customers in connection with his businesses, according to court records. A Sarasota County judge placed D'Atria on probation and to pay restitution, according to court records. The cafe was evicted from 211 N. Tamiami Trail on Oct. 10 by its landlord Kanadiana Enterprises, according to court records.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.