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East County Wednesday, Jul. 25, 2018 1 year ago

Lakewood Ranch continues to build ultra-competitive restaurant market

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

About a year ago I was sitting at a restaurant's bar in Lakewood Ranch and a woman nearby started to whine.

In front of her sat four $5 appetizers (it was happy hour) and she wasn't particularly happy with any of them.

"I moved here from New York a few months ago," she said. "And I can't find anywhere good to eat."

Jay Heater

Her comments were irritating, to say the least. I could live the rest of my life just eating those awesome appetizers and be happy doing so, but I get it. Different culinary strokes for different folks.

But to hear the woman, who kept blabbing, talk about the lack of quality restaurants was pushing my buttons. I started to consider my options. One, I could swoop in, and take one of those fried raviolis off her hands, and smear it on her forehead. Or two, I could tell her to "Go back to New York."

Come on, admit it. You would like to utter those words a few times yourself.

Eventually, I did nothing. Being a former New Yorker myself,  I felt rather sorry for her that she hasn't been able to enjoy the local restaurant scene. Poor woman. Obviously, she had undergone some sort of tastebud removal.

I've lived places in this country where the dining choices were dominated by fast food and bad pizza. Tucson, Ariz., Pocatello, Idaho, Crawfordsville, Ind.

This is not such a place.

Many of the people you meet have come from somewhere else, and they bring their particular brand of culinary excellence with them. Driving around our area, you can experience the New York take on pizza, or the Chicago brand. You can get the Wisconsin recipe for pierogi or have it Pennsylvania style. Taste seafood with a Chesapeake Bay flair or a Louisiana touch.

If anything, I'm worried my favorite restaurants might have trouble staying afloat. It's a tough market because of all the choices.

So tough it makes it interesting to see the investments of Pier 22 owner Hugh Miller in the new Grove restaurant in Main Street at Lakewood Ranch and of Nancy Krohngold in a new Nancy's Bar-B-Q in the former Ranch Grill at the corner of State Road 70 and Lorraine Road.

Miller, who plans to open late this fall, said he is spending "multi-millions" to renovate the former Polo Grill & Bar building while Krohngold, who will open early in 2019, said she will invest $500,000 in both her new spot and in her current Lil' Nancy's at the Ranch on Lakewood Main Street. She will repurpose Lil' Nancy's into Nancy’s Pantry Grab & Go,, which will focus on take-out.

Both Miller and Krohngold have built reputations for serving great food at their previous locations so they will have a following already when they open in Lakewood Ranch. Even so, they will be facing fierce competition at their new locations with substantial overhead because they are occupying significant square footage, Nancy's at 5,500 square feet and Grove at 27,000 square feet.

Then throw in the Waterside Place development that is planned to be a dining destination in 2020. Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is creating another Main Street at Lakewood Ranch and this time will make sure the various restaurants have lake views. Any restaurant hoping to make it in Lakewood Ranch will need to be on its "A" game, all the time.

You can add to that competition all the restaurants in the University Town Center districts. Just in that area alone, Ford's Garage, Smilefin Poke, Louis Pappas Fresh Greek and Pascone’s Ristorante’ will open their doors this year to join an already jammed market.

I'm not sure what Smilefin Poke will serve, but it sure sounds interesting.

Probably not interesting enough for the aforementioned crabby New Yorker, but for the rest of us, it's another bite of our East County big apple.


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