MANATEE -- The Amato family owned and operated a handful of restaurants in the Bradenton area for more than a decade until they found one in the right location and with the right atmosphere to carry them into retirement.
Paul Amato, 65, started his restaurant career in the early 1980s when he opened Oma's Pizza in Bradenton Beach. After 20 years, he sold Oma's Pizza to family and over the next decade owned and operated five other Manatee County restaurants: La Trattoria, Siciliano's, Bella Mia Pizza, Bella Mia Grill and Pizza by the Foot.
Now, while Paul and Frankie Amato, 51, run Paul & Frankie's Country Kitchen at 5227 Manatee Ave. W., they've rented out their past restaurant properties so other entrepreneurs and restaurateurs can enhance the Bradenton dining scene.
The Amatos own the nearly 2,000-square-foot building at 6103 14th St. W. where they used to run Siciliano's. The building is leased to four restaurant partners who recently opened Flavors of India. The market need for Indian cuisine is a part of what made Paul Amato want to lease to Ravindran Kesavan and his three partners: Lijo Lukose, Saji Jacob and Arun Joy.
"We needed an Indian restaurant," Amato said. "There are no Indian restaurants here and their food is good."
Kesavan operates five other Indian restaurants in Melbourne, West Palm Beach, Tampa and Fort Myers.
"And they've made the inside of the restaurant really nice," Frankie Amato said.
The four partners completely remodeled the space and imported the ceiling from India to give it an authentic feel. Walls were taken out in the front to accommodate a buffet, the kitchen was completely redone and new tables and chairs brought in. The work took about four months.
Customers at Flavors of India can order off the menu or try a variety of dishes from the lunch or dinner buffet. Giving people a buffet gives them the opportunity to try different Indian cuisine without ordering an entire dish, Joy said.
Joy does a lot of the cooking at Flavors of India Bradenton and, if a customer doesn't see their favorite dish on the menu, he is happy to take requests. He's excited to share the Indian cooking he was raised on with the local community.
"Everyone makes food at home in India," said Joy, who grew up in India and moved to Dubai before moving to Tampa and then Bradenton. "Nobody goes out to eat."
The four owners hope Bradenton residents going out for lunch or dinner will try Flavors of India.
And if people are in the mood for homestyle comfort food, they can stop by Paul & Frankie's Country Kitchen.
After losing their daughter to a heroin overdose last year, the Amatos wanted to leave Palmetto and start over in Bradenton. The restaurateur couple meant to retire after selling Pizza by the Foot, but Paul Amato said he became bored quickly. The couple also said they thrive on connecting with people through food.
"Being around people in the restaurant is like therapy," Paul Amato said.
Over the past six months, the Amatos renovated an empty space for Paul & Frankie's Country Kitchen and installed fryers, a grill, coolers and other kitchen equipment. Though they lease the space now, they're hoping to own it eventually.
"I'm a raised Southern girl," Frankie Amato said. "It's kind of like diner food but it's all homemade."
Paul and Frankie's family own Bella Mia on Manatee Avenue and didn't want to open another Italian restaurant "blocks away" from family, she said. Plus, Frankie Amato has always dreamed of having her own Southern comfort-food restaurant and gift shop. She's still working on the latter, adding gifts and tchotchkes as she finds them.
The country kitchen brings comfort food to Manatee Avenue. Frankie Amato uses her mother's recipes for homemade fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and decadent desserts such as peanut butter pie, pineapple upside-down cake and strawberry shortcake. Customers can order whole pies or cakes for parties and events as long as orders are placed at least two days ahead of time.
"Between me and her, we try to do everything fresh; nothing frozen," Paul Amato said.
Sourcing food locally and buying from farmers markets is also important to the Amatos.
"We use Dakin dairy and local produce as much as possible," Frankie Amato said. "We do it because our community needs it. It's important to support the community because the community supports us."
Paul & Frankie's Country Kitchen opened about two weeks ago and business has steadily increased, Frankie Amato said. Susan Donaldson made her second trip to the country kitchen with her husband, Craig, their daughter, Aimee, and granddaughters, Jamie, 9 and Hannah, 9.
"We come here because it's close to home, we can bring the kids and it's so cute in here," Susan Donaldson said. Her husband enjoyed the meatloaf so much on his first visit that he ordered it a second time.
The Amatos hope to accommodate more family outings for the Donaldsons and the rest of the Manatee County community and create a family atmosphere inside the homey little country kitchen.
"We are trying to spend the rest of our lives here," Paul Amato said.
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.