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Sandwiches in paradise: Main Bar

Chip Beeman has owned the Main Bar and Sandwich Shop, a local lunch hotspot in downtown Sarasota, for nine years. Photo by Mark Wemple.
Chip Beeman has owned the Main Bar and Sandwich Shop, a local lunch hotspot in downtown Sarasota, for nine years. Photo by Mark Wemple.
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Jimmy Buffett and a devotion to Parrothead culture lured Chip and Katie Beeman to move from Oregon to Florida nearly a decade ago.

But an Italian sandwich, specifically one sold at the Main Bar and Sandwich Shop in downtown Sarasota, got the couple to stay. They loved the Italian and the place that served it so much, actually, that they bought the joint.

The Beemans, who ran three Subways in Portland, Ore., for nine years, now find themselves in an unusual spot: They own two of the most prominent eateries in town at two of the busiest intersections.

One is the Main Bar, near Main Street and U.S. 301, which they bought in 2004. The other is Pastry Art, on Main Street and Lemon Avenue, which the couple bought in May. The Beemans also own Katie’s Café on State Road 70 in east Manatee County. Chip Beeman declines to say what he and his wife paid for the restaurants, or what each location does in annual sales, though he says the trio is growing.

Still, owning three restaurants through the recession can be dicey. Beeman, however, says he survived, and thrived, through an undying commitment to consistency that can be replicated in any business that sells different variations of the same product.

“Consistency,” says Beeman, “is a word I use a lot.”

The Main Bar, for example, sells at least 100 Italians every day. The sandwich, on a toasted bun, is made with salami, ham, provolone cheese, tomatoes, chopped peppers, onions and a Main Bar-exclusive blend of oil, garlic and spices.

Beeman learned the value of uniformity in the chaos of a busy restaurant while at Subway. A mentor there taught Beeman that consistency with everything that goes in and out is the only way to build long-term success.

“I learned to look at each line item,” says Beeman. “There are so many items that come into a restaurant.”
The lessons took. The first Subway the Beemans bought, in fact, grew into the No. 1 store in the Portland region in sales, out of 160 locations. But the couple sought to exit the Northwest in the early 2000s. They wanted to get away from the rainy cold months, and, says Beeman, they wanted to forgo a business like Subway dominated by teen employees who can be unreliable, unpredictable and rather inconsistent.

They chose Florida for the warmth and fond memories of a Jimmy Buffett concert they attended while on vacation years ago in Key West. They looked for a restaurant to buy in Clearwater first and, later, on Anna Maria Island. Then they heard about the opportunity to buy the Main Bar, which opened in 1958. They jumped on that.

Beeman says the Pastry Art opportunity was pretty similar, in that the chance to own a local institution outweighed the inherent industry risks. Beeman wrote a nine-page success strategy plan after he closed on the Pastry Art deal in May, and he refers to it nearly every day.

One move, for instance, was to force out homeless people known to congregate and smoke cigarettes around Pastry Art’s front door. He put up no smoking signs, and he bought new tables and chairs. Says Beeman: “It made them stop wanting to come here.”

Beeman made a few other changes at Pastry Art. He added some Main Bar sandwiches to the menu, and he expanded the coffee selection. But while the empire grows, Beeman is determined to never lose sight of his consistent motto. That includes regularly encouraging employees to remain proactive about issues when he’s not around.

“I tell them to make a decision, even if it’s wrong,” Beeman says. “If it’s wrong, I’ll fix it.”



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