CORTEZ -- A visit from Emeril Lagasse and some national press has nearly overloaded the kitchen at Star Fish Co. Market & Restaurant, but owner Karen Bell isn't complaining.
"It's a great problem to have," Bell said.
The fish market and restaurant saw another visit from the "Emeril's Florida" crew on Tuesday. The crew, along with Lagasse, last visited the waterfront restaurant in May to tape the show.
Though the show featuring Star Fish hasn't aired yet and won't until sometime early next year, the restaurant has already reaped rewards -- so much so, it had to reevaluate its kitchen process to speed up orders.
"Everyone wanted to know what he ordered," said Laurie Jones, manager of Star Fish, 12306 46th Ave. W. "We sold plenty of shrimp po' boys after he came."
Next to the restaurant's dockside order window is a display with what Lagasse ate when he visited, and people still talk about it all of the time, Jones said. Lagasse wasn't present for Tuesday's filming, but a Star Fish Facebook post about the crew's arrival generated plenty of buzz. The "Emeril's Florida" crew came back to film "b-roll" -- shots of customers eating at Star Fish and behind-the-scenes footage of fish being brought in and stored.
Bell, who also co-owns Tide Tables, appreciates the amount of exposure she's gotten from Emeril's visit in addition to past features in the New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines.
How Emeril's show and other travel writers have discovered her business is a mystery, Bell said.
"I don't call them; I don't know how they find this stuff," she said. "Some people try to sell me on advertising and I tell them I can't advertise."
The amount of traffic at Star Fish is already overwhelming at times for Bell's four-person kitchen staff. It's the combination of national press, cooking fish "right off of the boats with no substitutions" and using simple ingredients that have led to Star Fish's success, Bell said.
Her operation's small size, in addition to its waterfront location, is part of its charm, Bell said. She doesn't want to give that up, but she realized a two-hour ticket time -- which she has had since all of the national exposure -- was too much to ask of customers. Over the summer, she teamed up with Tide Tables co-owner Bob Woodson to evaluate the kitchen and figure out how to reduce ticket times while still accommodating a high volumes of customers.
Woodson and Bell placed a camera in the kitchen and watched operations until they figured out hiring an additional staff member to expedite food was the solution. The kitchen typically runs on two cooks, one expediter and one "runner," who takes food to tables and retrieves any additional requests customers make. Ticket times are now down to between 30 and 45 minutes, Bell said.
Tourists' visits to the village of Cortez and Star Fish are a part of a larger growth trend, Bell said.
"Manatee County itself is becoming a destination," she said. Anna Maria Island has always attracted tourists, but other parts of Manatee County are drawing national and international tourists.
"It's cool because we serve tourists from Europe here and then we're also exporting fish to Europe," Bell said. "This place is like the heart of the village. It's cool how such a tiny little village can have such a large impact on the world."
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.