TAMPA — Consider it a sign that the Tampa Bay area may be catching on to the locally driven, quality-conscious restaurant experience.
The founders of Boca Kitchen Bar Market, a farm-to-table oasis on Platt Street in the Hyde Park neighborhood, have announced they will open three more Boca sites around the area, beginning with a Brandon restaurant in November.
That will be followed by openings in Sarasota and St. Petersburg, which join a Winter Park Boca that opened last year.
Don’t worry about the neighborhood favorite losing its way, said co-founder Kevin Enderle.
“We’re not trying to develop a chain, we’re just trying to give the local communities their restaurant,” he said. In the Winthrop Village site in Brandon, Enderle said he hopes to provide “fresher, healthier and tastier options to an area that’s more known for chain restaurants and national brands.”
Guests at the Hyde Park restaurant are greeted by a “garden wall” that produces lettuce, basil and other vegetables for salads, garnishes and flavorings. Boca uses fresh ingredients from local growers, and menus change weekly if not daily based on seasonal items and the inspiration of the chef.
About a dozen local farms provide meat, eggs and vegetables, from King Family Farms for produce to Lake Meadows Natural in Ocoee for chicken and duck eggs and Dancing Goat Farm in the Oldsmar area for goat cheese.
That’s the formula Enderle hopes to duplicate in Brandon — with allowances for individual quirks. In the more family-oriented suburbs, that will mean more homemade pastas and pizza, he said.
The Brandon site will include a rooftop garden and an adjacent 2 vacant acres that can be farmed. It has 5,000 square feet of indoor space and a 1,000- square-foot outdoor patio.
The farm-to-table movement started gaining momentum a decade or so ago, although the average metropolitan area still grows or raises less than 2 percent of the food it consumes, according to Entrepreneur magazine.
Boca has enjoyed double-digit growth each year since it opened in 2012, reflecting the national “locavore” trend.
“People are more conscious of what they’re eating than they have been for many years,” said Dannette Lynch, regional director for the Tampa Bay area with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “That definitely has been a trend. If you can eat something fresh, and it’s healthy and it’s good for you — even though we all dread that — when it tastes really good, you have a different kind of feel for it.”
Enderle has another explanation for the boom: As commodities prices rise, from California produce to fuel, national casual chains have had to bump up prices accordingly. “At the local farm-to-table, you know your salad comes off the wall, or your food’s coming from a chicken farm that you can visit in Orlando, with no hormones, naturally fresh. People want that and they’ll pay a little extra for it. And it’s not really that much extra anymore. If their prices (national chains’) are equal to the local guy’s, they’re going to lose.”
The Sarasota restaurant is a few months out, with St. Petersburg a couple of months after that.
The Brandon Boca is not only using local food providers but also is relying on local artists and craftsmen. A local wood shop is producing tables, bar tops and other interior features.
“Wherever I can, I try to keep it local and give back,” Enderle said. “Keep it in the area, spend it in the area — that’s what we try to do.”