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Rocco's Tacos owner aims for Dec. 1 opening at UTC

University Town Center in Sarasota will be Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar's ninth location in Florida.


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  • | 9:30 a.m. January 30, 2022
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Rocco Mangel definitely is a lifer in the restaurant business.

His grandfather was general manager of the famed Copacabana Nightclub in New York City, then his father was involved in running restaurants as well. Rocco Mangel, born and raised in New York City, began working in a restaurant at the age of 13.

Rocco Mangel came to Florida in 1997 and worked in restaurants until he opened his first Rocco's Tacos & Tequila Bar in 2007 in West Palm Beach. Mangel now operates eight restaurants around Florida, and he’s set to open a new Rocco’s Tacos location, his ninth, at University Town Center at 243 N. Cattlemen Road, late in 2022.

Rocco Mangel said his business is an authentic Mexican restaurant with a vibrant atmosphere. It’s known for its happy hour with over 300 varieties of tequila as well as its legendary Taco Tuesdays, and an all-you-can-drink brunch on the weekends.

The 4,400 square-foot UTC location will feature several new twists that aren’t found in other Rocco’s locations. Mangel said the design of the restaurant has been in the works for six months and that it will feature a pergola system that will allow diners to enjoy comfortable outdoor seating year-round. Music from a DJ will also give some added energy.

The bar at Rocco's Taco's and Tequila Bar will offer a variety of drink choices, including more than 300 types of tequila. (Courtesy photo)
The bar at Rocco's Taco's and Tequila Bar will offer a variety of drink choices, including more than 300 types of tequila. (Courtesy photo)

“With the kind of dynamics we're in with the pandemic, outside dining is far superior than indoor,” Mangel said. “So we completely covered the outside patio. It's going to have an operable pergola system that will be open to the stars, and then close to the rain. We're incorporating a lot of different trees, and the UTC location will have a very large outdoor bar that's completely undercover. So that whole storefront as you see it now is going to be wide open.”

Diners can look forward to Rocco’s Taco Tuesdays that will feature all-you-can-eat tacos. Happy hours will feature what Mangel – who does not drink – calls “marga-liters” that can be taken home. He credited corporate beverage director David Ortiz for giving Rocco’s the happy hour flair that he expects will become one of the best in the area.

“He's amazing. He puts different types of cocktails together and follows the trends,” Mangel said. “We've got a dynamic drink list and we have a heavy hand. Most restaurants pour an ounce and a quarter of liquor. We pour two ounces in our drinks because that's what people want when they have a drink.”

Mangel said that he is putting together a team of general managers, chefs and a staff. Furniture, fixtures and equipment have been ordered, but Mangel fears that supply issues could interfere with the 9-month timeline from getting the space cleared and built to his specifications.

“My goal is to open Dec. 1,” Mangel said. “Believe me I'd like to get open in UTC. Benderson is very egregious on us getting open as well.”

A rendering of the interior of the Rocco's Tacos that's coming to University Town Center. (Courtesy photo)
A rendering of the interior of the Rocco's Tacos that's coming to University Town Center. (Courtesy photo)

Once the Rocco’s opens at UTC, it figures to be the standard-bearer for his chain of restaurants. Mangel said all of his restaurants will be brought up to 2022 standards and that he’s looking to continue expanding. He’s looking at putting Rocco’s in airports. He also said he might put a Rocco's in the Lakewood Ranch area if the UTC location fares well.

He said he is available to his customers.

“I don’t hide behind my restaurants,” Mangel said. “I love to talk to people. I can't wait to meet people in Sarasota and want it be a neighborhood friendly place. This is going to be a spectacular place, not just some cookie-cutter Mexican restaurant that’s what a corporate conglomerate would put in. It's going to be something special.”