- June 10, 2015
Owning a restaurant was Tanner Loebel’s lifelong dream — until he saw up close how difficult a job it is.
Loebel operated a St. Petersburg-based food delivery company called FoodNow from 2011 to 2017, and he saw how many hours restaurateurs worked to keep up with their razor-thin margins for profit. He also saw how badly they wanted to please every single customer and how emotionally affected when one became unhappy.
Everything changed when he took a trip to Southern California after selling FoodNow and discovering sushi burritos. Loebel came home to St. Petersburg and discovered he would need to drive 45 minutes to obtain one. He couldn’t find any restaurants nearby that specialized in the fast-casual poke food he fell in love with out West.
In September 2018, he and two business partners, Eric Bialik and Chef Tock Noythanongsay, started one of their own: Pacific Counter. At the end of January, they opened their second location off State Road 70 at The Green in Lakewood Ranch. Loebel considers Pacific Counter to be a sushi-style restaurant.
“We felt like the food was something that people would like, but they might have been a little intimidated,” Loebel said. “I had that in my family: people who ate fish, but didn't eat sushi because they were afraid. They didn't feel as comfortable going into a place and ordering for the first time. ‘There's 200 options here, and I don't know what a lot of these words even mean.’ We wanted to create something that was easy.”
Most Pacific Counter dishes start with a simple question — Roll it or bowl it? Once the customers decide between burritos and bowls, they have the option to choose from a wide variety of rice, noodles, meats, seafood, vegetables and spreads. Loebel said there are no upcharges for premium ingredients, and the restaurant is careful to mark foods that are vegan, gluten free and raw.
“I'd be going out to eat with family members (with dietary restrictions), and everybody's ordering, and then they're always in this uncomfortable rut,” Loebel said. “We want to create a place where five people could be in the same group, in a line, they all order, they all have the same experience. … And they all get exactly what they want without any preferential treatment or special orders or anything like that.”
The restaurant also offers some signature menu items, including a selection of poke-inspired hot dogs created after Pacific Counter began serving food for Tampa Bay Rays games at Tropicana Field. Regular hot dogs are available for those picky children at the dinner table.
Loebel said he originally thought his second location would be in Tampa. His deal to secure a building unit, however, fell through at the last minute. The more he looked at Lakewood Ranch, the more it made sense. He was encouraged by the high-quality community, large range of age groups and rapid population growth. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the rent was three times cheaper than south Tampa.
Pacific Counter wouldn’t have been possible if Loebel hadn’t found the right partners. Bialik and Loebel went to college together at University of Central Florida.
“I couldn't imagine doing this by myself,” Loebel said. “I wouldn't be here if it was by myself, because I wouldn't have done it.”