UNIVERSITY PARK -- The second half of Tampa-based Ciccio Restaurant Group's expansion into Sarasota's Shoppes at University Town Center has opened.
Daily Eats was full for Friday's lunch hour, and regional manager Michael Astuto says business has increased steadily since they opened Wednesday at 8491 Cooper Creek Blvd. General manager J.T. Linde describes the new restaurant as a "modern take on a classic diner."
The menu includes comfort-food classics such as mac and cheese, burgers and all-day traditional breakfast dishes. But it has options for health-focused customers, too; the Daily Eats "shredder bowls" lay protein and veggies atop a bed of brown rice or quinoa, and the breakfast dishes can be made with egg whites upon request.
Opening Daily Eats during the busy holiday shopping season may be stressful and Astuto hasn't gotten much sleep this week. But the weather's been perfect, and it turned out to be a "great time to open."
"Lunch has gotten full and dinner has picked up over the last three days," Astuto said. "Hopefully tonight will be even busier."
The Shoppes at University Town Center is owned by Benderson Development Co., and the building that houses Ciccio's Fresh Kitchen and Daily Eats was built over the last year. Fresh Kitchen opened on Black Friday -- Nov. 27.
Daily Eats occupies 3,000 square feet of the roughly 6,000-square-foot building, employs 50 people and passed its state health inspection on Nov. 30 with no violations. It has an open-air layout with four large windows and a concrete half-wall separating the inside and outside of the restaurant. "Guests," as Linde refers to all customers who frequent Daily Eats, have the option of sitting outside or inside.
One Bradenton couple gave Daily Eats a try on Friday for lunch. They thought about dining at Fresh Kitchen, but "it was too bowl-y for me," John Lynch said. They compromised and headed over to Daily Eats where John's wife Julie got a Waldorf bowl minus red onions. The bowl had brown rice, strawberries, cucumbers, pecans, bleu cheese crumbles and strawberry vinaigrette. John Lynch got a pulled chicken barbecue sandwich.
Both enjoyed their lunch and plan to return. In addition to the good food and attentive service, the Lynches said, they enjoyed the atmosphere at Daily Eats.
"The ambience is good," Lynch said. "It kind of takes a little bit of the Lakewood Ranch-Main Street feel to this area."
The growing University Park-Sarasota area appealed to Ciccio Restaurant Group for expansion opportunities. Linde grew up in the area, attended Braden River High School and is excited to have a fresh-food restaurant here.
"It's something I can take pride in and be proud and happy to serve," Linde said. "The quality and freshness speak for itself." He used to work in South Tampa for Bloomin' Brands, the parent company of Outback Steakhouse where he met some of Ciccio Restaurant Group's crew.
A tight-knit family feeling in the company got Linde on board.
"I love the culture; they're people-oriented," Linde said. "I think when you take care of people, everything takes care of itself." Even though more than 500 people work for Ciccio, most employees know each other.
"It's not just our restaurant," Astuto said. "There are so many people working behind the scenes, whether it's printing something late at night or driving out early in the morning from Tampa. Everyone's willing to help each other out."
Astuto and Linde said they see the teamwork and familial feeling in the company translate into friendly and welcoming service at Ciccio's restaurants.
"We just have an attractive culture," Linde said. "You can tell by looking at employees' faces."
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.