LAKEWOOD RANCH — They are family, so when Popi Ameres and her son, Andy, interrupt each other while discussing their latest restaurant — presenting their thoughts as one — it hardly counts as rude.
The Amereses are comfortable together, which is clear whether they are sitting on the same side of a booth in their restaurant or in the living room enjoying big Greek family dinners.
The family focus guides the single-minded strategy of their business — Popi’s Place restaurants (pronounced pope-ee)— Manatee County staples since the 1980s known for comfort food and large portions.
Their latest project and eighth family-run restaurant, Popi’s Place on the Ranch, opens the week of Jan. 27, next to the Walmart in Ranch Lake Plaza.
It is the Amereses’ first East County restaurant, and it represents more restrained growth for the family business.
“I get up in the morning and I’m not sure (which restaurant) I will end up (at),” Popi Ameres said. “I love cooking and that’s my passion, so I want to be there wherever we need help. Our customers are a part of our lives, and we care for them, even as we grow.”
Since the first Popi’s Place opened 30 years ago at McKechnie Field, the Amereses have strived to make customers feel at home.
They design each restaurant to fit with the location and the people who eat there.
And the family serves food that customers would probably eat at home — but better.
The menu, which stays the same at each restaurant, primarily serves homemade “country classics” such as omelets, deli sandwiches and meatloaf.
The only sign of Greek in the restaurants is the daily specials, the Greek salads and the family itself.
There is an Ameres family member at every Popi’s Place restaurant — all eight of them — right at home in the kitchen at 4 a.m. making homemade biscuits.
Andy Ameres and his wife, Kalli, will run Popi’s Place on the Ranch.
Kalli Ameres fashioned the location like a ranch.
Paintings of horses line the walls, next to rope and mirrors. A prominent bar offers beer and wine.
“Every location has its own character, but the principles in each are the same,” Andy Ameres said. “The recipes are consistent; we have a broad menu with filling portions. It’s hard to do this — to make things fresh to order and family-oriented. Our customers are understanding when we make mistakes because they know what we put into it.”
The strategy means having higher food costs and a larger staff who work long hours.
Andy Ameres said he expects to hire 30 to 40 people to staff the Lakewood Ranch location, including culinary students from Manatee Technical Institute.
Popi Ameres and her husband, Emanuel, adopted the strategy for their restaurants because of their work in the kitchen (see sidebar).
Popi’s Place became the apex of the dream.
Today, all of the Popi’s Place locations are named for the place in which they reside, such as Popi’s Place Palmetto and Popi’s Place Ellenton.
The family also franchised a restaurant for the first time, granting ownership of the Popi’s Place at Sarabay to a family the Amereses know from St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church.
“We still know how to stay small,” Andy Ameres said. “Any time we open a new restaurant, we’re excited to be a part of that neighborhood, and Lakewood Ranch is no different.”
Before her son could finish, Popi Ameres said, “We’re here because our customers made us this way.”
ABOUT THE OWNER
The Ameres patriarch and matriarch, Emanuel and Popi, have spent their lives in the kitchen, particularly in Popi’s Place restaurants.
Emanuel Ameres worked as a chef on ships in the Greek Navy, while Popi Ameres cooked at home, using recipes from her mother, “Yaya.”
The couple married when they were 16 years old.
They moved in 1970 to Cleveland, so Emanuel Ameres could work as a chef for Brown Derby Restaurant, a company known for steaks and owned by a Greek man who hired many fellow Greeks.
Popi Ameres soon became the first female chef at the restaurant.
In 1975, the couple transferred to a Brown Derby location in St. Petersburg.
That year, they opened their first restaurant, The Grapevines, an upscale establishment at 14th Street West and Cortez Road, in Bradenton.
The Amereses then opened a similar restaurant, Seven Seas, before starting the Old Town Café, which served homestyle, modest food, like Popi’s Place does.
The first Popi’s Place opened in 1984.
All of the former restaurants, except Popi’s Place restaurants, are closed now.
Each of the Popi’s Place locations is run by family members, including the Ameres’ sons, Andy and George, or friends of the family.
Popi’s Place on the Ranch
Owners: Andy Ameres and his wife, Kalli
Opens: Week of Jan. 27
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Location: 5820 Ranch Lake Blvd., Bradenton
Services: Popi’s Place on the Ranch is an extension of a family restaurant business known for home cooking, Greek specialties and friendly service.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].