TAMPA — When it comes to Ellie’s Restaurant, it’s important to know two things.
First, while it is tucked away in the Tri-County Business Park off Racetrack Road, it is open for everybody, not just people who work in the business park.
Second, it’s as friendly a place as possible to start off the day. Breakfast is served every morning and lunch weekdays. It has a loyal following and a friendly atmosphere that isn’t found in many chain restaurants.
Thomas Demas is a third-generation member of the Ellie’s restaurant family. His grandparents, Tom and Ellie, started in the restaurant business in northern Ohio and moved the business to Florida, starting in Clearwater before settling in their current location.
The doors open at 6 a.m., but Ellie is normally there just after 3 a.m., whipping up homemade breakfasts, soups, and whatever else the special is that day.
But their biggest challenge? Making sure everyone knows that the hard-to-find spot welcomes everyone.
“We hear it a lot, that people don’t know we are here,” Demas said. “We need to get the word out, but once they stop in they always want to come back. We have a lot of regulars.”
Ellie’s got off to a tough start — they opened practically in the middle of the latest economic crisis — but Demas said the family simply bit the bullet and waited for the recovery.
“We were a little nervous, but it all turned out and we are doing fine,” Demas said. “We may want to grow, but we are happy with the way things are.”
A customer came in two weeks ago with a broken-down car, Demas said. He needed a phone. He was immediately offered the company phone, but Demas said any of the employees would have offered him their own cell- phone. It’s the personal service, Demas said, that makes Ellie’s stand out over chain restaurants.
Dinner isn’t on the menu — yet. Demas said it was tried at their previous Clearwater location and, upon moving to Tampa, it was decided to keep it at breakfast and lunch. Ellie’s also delivers and Demas said the calls are constant.
“We use almost all homemade stuff and that makes us different,” Demas said. “Our customers know us. Every Wednesday is spaghetti day, Friday is fish and chips. We always have a homemade soup and they know the menu by heart. They can order breakfast all day and our regulars are all friends.”
It’s the surroundings and people that Demas said makes things special.
“The fact that we have such a homey feel is special,” he said. “People like the ma-and-pa style restaurant. We are known for the large servings that they can’t finish but, you know what? People love it. And it makes us happy. The customers here are real family.”
Ellie’s Restaurant is located in the Tri-County Business Park at 12008 Racetrack Road in Tampa.