UNIVERSITY PARK -- Moments before the doors opened for a mock dining service Saturday night, Cheesecake Factory staff and executives huddled to pump up their team.
A deafening roar filled the dining room from a sampling of the 250 workers cheering each other on followed later by rave reviews from diners.
The Cheesecake Factory held trial dining services Saturday and Sunday inviting friends and family to the restaurant to make sure everyone is ready for the official opening day Thursday with The Mall at University Town Center.
Beth Bowen took Jean Marquis to lunch Saturday at the Cheesecake Factory and both said they were wowed.
"I was very impressed with the friendliness of the staff," said Bowen of Sarasota. "As we were waiting in line, they came and introduced themselves to us. Everyone seems very upbeat and the restau
rant décor is beautiful."
Cheesecake Factory stands out as the largest eatery in the mall in terms of size and menu items. Inside, the 7,983-square-foot dining room has traditional Cheesecake Factory touches with palace-like walls and light fixtures all with a golden hue.
The UTC location opts for an open kitchen design where diners can peer through a glass wall to see cooks and servers readying many of the 200-plus menu items. Above, a colorful mural stretches the length of the dining room with brightly colored salmon, birds, fruits and cocktails.
Outside, folks packed the 1,239-square-foot patio with a decorative fountain for al fresco dining.
And, of course, there was a large display case of cheesecake by the front door where dozens gathered throughout Saturday night.
Marquis said she couldn't get over how great her chicken di pana was, featuring a breaded sautéed chicken breast over white wine butter sauce with mashed potatoes and broccoli.
"Oh," Marquis sighed. "That was awesome."
Bowen works at New College of Florida and said she would love to come back as a lunch option -- if she can make it through traffic.
"Our server said he lives across the street and it took him 45 minutes to get here today," Bowen said.
For those who don't want to battle parking for lunch, this Cheesecake Factory offers curbside service. A limited take-out menu can be found at thecheesecakefactory.com by searching for the Sarasota location. Place orders by calling 941-256-3760.
The Cheesecake Factory will open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
Teresa and Jim Morgan of north Sarasota stopped in for lunch Saturday afternoon through an invitation for their first Cheesecake Factory experience.
"It's beautiful. It's awesome," Teresa Morgan said.
She opted for the salmon Genovese, featuring pan-seared salmon with tomato, green beans, roasted artichokes and lemon served over couscous and basil-almond pesto sauce.
Jim Morgan went for the bang-bang chicken and shrimp, which features curry, peanut, chile and coconut with steamed white rice and vegetables.
As diners were asked to choose an appetizer, entrée and dessert to share, the Morgans carried bags of leftovers on their way out. One entrée at Cheesecake Factory can easily feed two people.
"We were just slowly eating the cheesecake," Jim Morgan said.
"I don't think I could move," Teresa Morgan chimed in.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.