Tiring of the construction business and cold winters, Mike Osmond moved to Bradenton 20 years ago with the idea of opening a frozen custard shop, inspired by a store he was familiar with in Raleigh, N.C.
Even though the Osmond family knew little about the restaurant business, they did their homework and pooled their wits and their money to open SweetBerries at 4500 Manatee Ave. W.
Starting from scratch in a former paint store, they quickly decided that frozen custard alone would not draw enough customers through the door. They soon expanded the menu to include soups, salads and sandwiches, and the business became SweetBerries Eatery & Frozen Custard.
On opening day with the expanded menu, SweetBerries served 35 lunches.
Now, the restaurant serves about 150 lunches a day — and 250 during the height of the winter season.
Over the years, the family-owned restaurant evolved and changed, becoming a destination for locals and visitors alike.
In the beginning, Sweetberries was the husband-and-wife team of Mike and Cindy Osmond; their son, Brandon, at that time a Manatee High student; Mike’s father, James Osmond; and Mike’s grandmother, Gertrude Osmond, all of whom worked together to launch the business.
“We had no idea what we were doing. People told us we were crazy, you’re not going to make it,” Cindy Osmond said.
But the family persevered and traveled as far as Wisconsin and St. Louis to learn the secrets of making frozen custard — similar to ice cream, but with the addition of egg yolk — denser.
Brandon, who scooped frozen custard as a high school student, says Sweetberries helped fill a void. At that time, there weren’t the proliferation of chain frozen custard stores as seen today.
“It’s a work in progress. We still learn things and make changes,” Cindy said.
In 2003, the family opened a second store at 2881 Clark Road in Sarasota, and in 2013 opened a third store at 505 NW 13th St. in Gainesville.
Today, the business is split about 50-50 between frozen custard and the soup, salad and sandwich side, and has an emphasis on quality and friendly service, Brandon said.
For those who haven’t visited Sweetberries, what they will see on the sweet side of the menu are concretes, which are frozen custards blended with fruits, nuts, candies or flavorings. A concrete is so thick that it resists gravity when turned upside down and is eaten with a spoon. Also available are sundaes, shakes and malts, floats and smoothies. Concrete prices start at $4.65.
The most popular flavor? Vanilla, four to one over chocolate, the Osmonds say.
“We make it fresh every day. It goes from liquid to frozen in 45 seconds in the machine,” Brandon said.
Cups and cones of vanilla, chocolate or the flavor of the day are $2.50 for kids and $3.50 for adults.
Mona Wood recently made her second visit to Sweetberries and had the tuna melt sandwich (tuna salad topped with Muenster cheese and then grilled and served with a pickle and choice of side for $8.45).
“The food here is so delicious I had to come back,” Wood said.
Adam Lenhoff also stopped at Sweetberries and had The Augusta Gobbler special, an oven-roasted turkey sandwich with provolone, lettuce and homemade cranberry pecan mayonnaise on wheat bread for $8.75. While he didn’t have frozen custard, he was taking several cups of chocolate to his grandparents.
Other sandwich offerings include the New York Reuben, Monte Cristo, The Jersey Shore, chicken salad, Havana Cuban, Kansas City Roast Beef, the chicken cordon bleu and more. Most popular sandwich? An old dependable: chicken salad.
Sweetberries also has a catering menu with salads, sweet treats, bag lunches, platters and party trays.
Carmen Montane started work at the Sarasota SweetBerries as her first job when she was 16, and 13 years later is vice president of the company and manager of the Bradenton and Sarasota stores.
“I love the family I work for. I love the environment, training the staff and I love my customers. I have had the chance to grow,” Montane said.
On Aug. 8, the company will mark its anniversary and National Frozen Custard Day with frozen custard for $1 a cone, Montane said.
Each week during August, Sweetberries will advertise other specials, including additional flavors.
Sweetberries has seating for about 70. The Bradenton restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information, visit sweetberries.com or call 941-750-6771.