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East County Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013 4 years ago

Fast N Fresh temporarily closes its doors

by: Josh Siegel Staff Writer

EAST COUNTY — The Fast N Fresh in Cooper’s Creek is shuttered with thick brown paper and closed for business, but, unlike the usual circumstances of this downcast scene, the news is good.

Michael and Lesley Harb, owners of Fast N Fresh, the popular quick-service East County eatery that serves custom and pre-designed salads, sandwiches and soups, closed the Cooper’s Creek location Aug. 30 for a long-planned renovation.

It will reopen for business in early February with an expanded kitchen, allowing for quicker service, additional outdoor seating, new furniture and seating areas and a fresh look.

The menu will stay the same.

The couple’s second location, on Lakewood Ranch Main Street, will remain open.

The Harbs acknowledged a problem with the air conditioning sped up the closing of the restaurant by a few weeks.

“We always looked at the Cooper’s Creek location as a test-run,” said Michael Harb. “We didn’t want to expand until we were confident we could be successful.”

In December 2008, the Harbs retook possession of Bamboo, a restaurant they used to own that was housed in the Cooper’s Creek Fast N Fresh space.

From that date forward, the Harbs worked to convert the space into Fast N Fresh, until it opened in April 2009.

At that time, they built and installed new cabinets, countertops and other fixtures and changed the layout.
But the size of the space stayed the same.

In 2012, Lakewood Ranch came calling.

The Harbs opened their second location on Lakewood Ranch Main Street in April of that year.

That location, a big draw for Lakewood Ranch business people, has given the Harbs the flexibility to temporarily close the first one.

They alerted customers to the closing on their Facebook page.

“We didn’t want to remodel Cooper’s Creek until we had another location open,” said Lesley Harb.
The Harbs say they have loyal clientele at both locations, but, since the closing, Main Street’s Fast N Fresh has served Cooper’s Creek patrons well.

They say 20% of Cooper’s Creek regular customers come to the Main Street location now, where business is up 30% to 40% over the last three weeks.

Lesley Harb says that Fast N Fresh’s unique concept — healthy, fast, affordable food in a clean atmosphere — make it irreplaceable.

“We still have a Lakewood Ranch presence,” Lesley Harb said. “With a lot of restaurants, if you’re cut off, you go somewhere else. If Wendy’s closes, you go to McDonald’s. We don’t have a comparable trade-off.”

The Harbs say the remodeled location will look and feel similar to the Fast N Fresh on Main Street.

“But we’re taking it to the next level,” Lesley Harb said.

Angela Rodriguez, a Ringling College graduate from Space as Art Interior Design, will design the new look.

With the Mall at University Town Center and the 2017 World Rowing Championships on the horizon, the Harbs believe it’s the right time to invest in their business.

Next summer, they will start looking for a spot to house a third Fast N Fresh location, in Sarasota.

“Restaurants are expensive endeavors,” Michael Harb said. “When they fail, they fail quickly. We’re comfortable putting money into it.”

Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].

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