TAMPA — When John Olejnik moved to Tampa in 1992, downtown was a dead zone. After the workweek, the streets were empty. It was a shock.
“Especially for someone coming from Chicago,” Olejnik said last week. “It was a ghost town.”
So when the owners of Park Tower invited him in September to consider bringing a Nature’s Table franchise restaurant to the Ashley Street side of their office building at 400 N. Tampa St., he was shocked again. This time by all of the pedestrian activity and the occupancy of the tower, which includes BB&T Bank.
“I went, ‘Holy cow! Look at all the people here!’” he remembers. “That building has over 800 people in it just by itself.”
Olejnik and his wife are planning to open a 1,200-square-foot Nature’s Table restaurant within a 5,000-square-foot space left vacant since 2008 after the Lucky Dill Deli was evicted for unpaid rent. The Olejnik’s children, Jonathan and Heather, will be executive chef and general manager, respectively.
This will be the fourth Nature’s Table franchise and the sixth Tampa Bay area restaurant for the family. In addition to the health food concept, they also operate the Sunset Vistas Cafe and Beach Bar at the Sunset Vistas hotel in Treasure Island and The Cafe at Waterford in the Waterford Plaza building in Rocky Point.
This will be the first Nature’s Table in the area with access from within the building as well as outside, Olejnik said. The restaurant, which will be open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, will seat about 35 customers indoors and another 10 outdoors. Nature’s Table also will open on Saturdays during special events.
The restaurant is among a group of new food ventures downtown. TooJay’s Original Gourmet Deli opened Monday in the SunTrust building. Holy Hog Barbecue is building a 1,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor restaurant next to the Tampa Police Department at Kennedy Boulevard and Franklin Street. In the health segment, Urban Juice recently opened on Franklin Street, offering juices that aim to boost immunity, aid digestion and detoxify. A few doors down on Franklin, Fresh serves salads, paninis, rice bowls, pasta salads and smoothies.
Nature’s Table will serve breakfast until 10:30 a.m. each weekday, with a lunch menu of salads, wraps and sandwiches as well as fruit and vegetable smoothies. Olejnik said several seasonal items and daily specials will rotate on the menu.
Olejnik said downtown will offer his business a customer base that will pay extra for fresh, healthier food. Several offices already have inquired about catering for their employees, he said.
“I think being downtown is going to be a killer for us,” he said. “A majority of the people take their food and go back to the office. I see a lot of people walking around downtown with sacks of food.”