UNIVERSITY PARK — If you ever need to know the weather conditions from five months ago, just ask Greenbrook resident Michael Harb.
Since he and his wife, Lesley, opened their first restaurant, Bamboo, in 2003, the restaurateur and certified public accountant has kept frighteningly meticulous spreadsheets to track business trends and growth. He has one for expenses, another for profits and yes, even one for weather patterns.
When it rains, he reasons, a restaurant’s business dips. And with his spreadsheet, he can track just how much.
Armed with years of to-the-letter data and years of restaurant experience, last month, the Harbs re-launched their East County restaurant as Fast n Fresh — a quick-service eatery that serves both custom and pre-designed salads and sandwiches as well as soups.
“It’s an entirely different experience,” Michael Harb said of the new restaurant. “There’s nothing like this in the area.”
Customers can order, eat and leave in as little as 20 minutes, making it popular among local business people and seniors, Michael Harb said. And, although some restaurateurs want their new businesses to satisfy their own culinary creativity, the Harbs say simple, discernible cuisine is what is keeping their customers coming back.
“East County is meat and potatoes,” Lesley Harb said.
Her husband agreed.
“Innovative is not always profitable,” Michael Harb said.
Lesley Harb, whose background includes education at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., creates all the menu’s prepared salads and sandwiches. Eventually, Lesley Harb hopes to add seasonal items to the menu to take advantage of fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally. And soon, she will unveil Fast n Fresh’s baked potato bar to target heartier appetites and also is developing the restaurant’s catering menu.
The Harbs opened their first East County restaurant, Bamboo, in April 2003. Along with Michael Harb’s sister, Alex Harb, and cousin Michelle Clark, the couple ran it successfully until May 2007 and eventually sold it in December 2007. With two young children and a declining economy, the Harbs thought it was the right time to leave the business.
Bamboo’s new owners were unsuccessful continuing the restaurant’s growth, and the Harbs retook possession in December 2008. From that date forward, the Harbs worked nonstop to convert the space into Fast n Fresh. They built and installed the new cabinets, countertops and other fixtures, changed the layout and finally opened in March.
The Harbs developed the idea for a quick-service salad, sandwich and soup shop after seeing similar businesses operating successfully in New York and on Florida’s East Coast. Eventually, the couple hopes to expand to additional locations throughout the Manatee/Sarasota market with possible franchise opportunities in other markets, Michael Harb said.
And although Fast n Fresh is situated in the same shopping center as Bonefish Grill, Lee Roy Selmon’s, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and more, the Harbs say they’ve enjoyed immediate success with Fast n Fresh.
“(This area) has become a restaurant destination,” Michael Harb said.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].
Fast n Fresh
ADDRESS: 8105 Cooper Creek Blvd.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday
SERVING: Salads and sandwiches