Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Big Top Brewing expands to Fruitville Commons with huge plans

The Sarasota restaurant/brewery targets mid-April for the opening of its 18,000 square-foot business on the southern edge of Lakewood Ranch.

Artwork in the new Big Top gives a tip of the hat to Sarasota's connection with the circus industry.
Artwork in the new Big Top gives a tip of the hat to Sarasota's connection with the circus industry.
Photo by Jay Heater
  • Arts + Entertainment
  • Eat + Drink
  • Share

It's Big Top Brewing, it's a big building, and it's a big risk.

The ownership team of Seth Murauskas, Mike Bisaha and Josh Wilson knew they were taking a risk when they decided to build an 18,000-square-foot building to house their newest restaurant/brewery at Sarasota's Fruitville Commons, at the southern edge of Lakewood Ranch.

"We have it all on the line here," said Bisaha, who expects the restaurant/brewery to open by mid-April.

Bisaha noted that the three friends and co-owners are not some large corporation with endless resources. However, they have built Big Top's reputation over the last 10 years (their anniversary was April 1), starting with their Sarasota restaurant/brewery just to the west of Interstate 75 in Sarasota. They already have one Lakewood Ranch location at 2507 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.

The new location at 3045 Fruitville Commons Blvd. is just to the east of I-75, which Bisaha said is a key point to making such a large facility profitable.

"Beer can be a tourism business," Bisaha said. "Big Top started on I-75. It's easy access."

The brewery area will house a dozen 3,000-gallon tanks to craft the beer.
Photo by Jay Heater

Fruitville Commons also offers lots of competition with restaurants such as Cooper's Hawk and Twin Peaks, but Bisaha said that is part of the attraction for the location.

He said those type of restaurants will draw more attention to the new business and they, when combined, will make Fruitville Commons a dining destination for both the locals and those visiting the area.

Bisaha was speaking on March 29 as workers hurried about the building, which looks mostly complete from the outside, but which has lots to be done inside. Big Top will be able to host about 700 guests at a time with outdoor seating for about 200. The outdoor area should be a hit, with a long bar that can seat about 60 guests and more than 100 Adirondack polywood-style chairs that not only offer comfortable seating, but should be resilient when it comes to the weather.

The owners say their speciality is beer, so they hired two regional food gurus, Joe Guli and Joe Seidensticker (Clear Play Concepts) to manage the restaurant side of the business. 

Guli's extensive background includes being the former president of Scratch Concepts, Burger 21 and Grillsmith Restaurant Group. He has been regional vice president for Cheesecake Factory and was the corporate chef for the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant Group. Besides the Clear Play Concepts management group he co-founded with Seidensticker, he also is the CEO of the Tableseide Restaurant Group.

Joe Guli of Clear Plate Concepts will manage the restaurant side of the business for Big Top.
Photo by Jay Heater

Seidensticker is the co-founder of the Tableseide Restaurant Group, Oak & Stone and now Clear Play Concepts, which also handles Good Liquid Brewing Company at Waterside in Lakewood Ranch.

Big Top brought in heavy hitters.

"We had to hire a team organization, one that had the skill to execute," Bisaha said. "In the Sarasota area, there were few choices, and Joe and Joe just stand above the rest.

"We didn't want bar food. We wanted elevated food," Bisaha said.

It takes only 30 seconds to understand Guli isn't about to deliver "bar food."

He launched into a discussion about pizza and how nothing ordinary was going to be found at Big Top. Guli talked about their "pizza dough program" that would utilize Caputo flours that would be blended together at room temperature, sealed for 24 hours in a container during the fermentation process and eventually be the crust after a day-and-a-half process.

"I want our pizza program to be unique," Guli said. "It will be a blend of New York and Neapolitan styles with super high quality ingredients."

The high ceilings in the 18,000-square-foot Big Top restaurant/brewery are striking.
Photo by Jay Heater

Guli raced though his description with a unique passion that the owners love. He was on site March 29 preparing his side of the restaurant/brewery for its opening. 

"The facility is massive," he said. "The menu ... there will be something for everyone. I call it comfort food with a twist. We will be using a lot of local elements."

But Clear Plate Concepts also will go across the country to bring in exceptional quality. For example, Big Top's brisket-blend burger will consist of meat shipped from Colorado.

Guli said a big part of his job will be making sure the kitchen staff can get the food to the servers in an efficient manner.

"It is such a massive building, we have been figuring out the right footprint," he said. "We have to figure out the flow of the kitchen. We will be making 36 menu items from scratch."

Guli said he has hired 111 of the 130 workers needed to open the doors.

If that isn't enough on the food side, Guli said food trucks could be used to serve the outdoor customers.

"It would be things like grilled oysters or a taco truck," he said. "We will have live entertainment and kiosk outside to order from. 

He said a fun piece of Big Top will be pairing food and beer.

"They plan their beers out annually, so you can plan a menu out six months ahead," Guli said.

With 32 craft beers on draft and a canned selection, that's a lot of pairings.

As excited as Guli is about the food, Murauskas, Bisaha and Wilson can't wait to begin serving up their beer.

Co-owners Mike Bisaha and Seth Murauskas stand next to the art that greets patrons when they come through the door of soon-to-open Big Top Brewing at the Fruitville Commons.
Photo by Jay Heater

When it comes to beer, Bisaha said the customers are the boss.

"That's who we work for," he said. 

Mauraskas and Bisaha were Sarasota neighbors a decade ago who would talk about making their own beer. They knew Wilson, who had been making his own beer for 20 years. Less than a year later they were in business together. They decided to give Sarasota's famed circus culture a tip of the hat with their name and theme, and away they went.

Now they serve draft beers such as Hazy Sky Wire and Circus City IPA. The artwork in the restaurant reflects that connection.

They wait for the dozen 3,000 gallon tanks to arrive to brew on site. Until the tanks are installed (expected a month or two after opening), they will serve their product made at their other two locations. Big Top's head brewer is Jordan Perrin.

The Brewery will take up about a third on the business. On March 29, tables were arriving and being placed to serve about 500 people.

"Hopefully we will fill it quick," Mauraskas said.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

Latest News