About a year and a half ago, Damian Mandola, co-founder of Carrabba’s Italian Grill, took a trip to Florida that he won’t soon forget.
The intention was to handle business related to Carrabba’s, but the destination was Tampa Bay—home of industry veteran Paul Avery, a man Mandola admired. The relationship dates back more than a decade to when Avery was COO of Bloomin’ Brands (originally called OSI Restaurant Partners), the parent of Carrabba’s and Outback Steakhouse.
Given the respect Mandola has for Avery’s business acumen, Trina Mandola, Mandola’s wife and business partner, saw an opportunity. She suggested Mandola present Avery with Mandola’s Italian Kitchen, an experiential fast-casual brand founded by the couple in 2006. The concept has since grown to four locations throughout Texas.
So Mandola and Director of Operations David Rosenberger traveled to the Sunshine State, bringing tales of Mandola’s Italian Kitchen, which offers daily prepared ingredients, homemade sauces, and upscale plates, flatware, and glassware.
“You don’t see that,” says Mandola, referencing the quality of his restaurant’s food and amenities. “Not many people can do that, and that’s what we bring to the table.”
After about a week, an intrigued Avery asked to visit a restaurant.
“He knows the business so well,” says Avery, who serves as CEO of World of Beer Bar & Kitchen. “His years of experience in building restaurants and bringing incredible flavors to life is an amazing talent that he has and that he’s been polishing for many, many years. So he has the utmost integrity and reputation in the industry. I’m just so honored that he asked me to look at his concept.”
As Avery took his tour, he was impressed with the commitment to quality and passion expressed by employees. The economic model appeared positive and the atmosphere proved lively, charming, and appealing.
Avery was convinced. Mandola’s Italian Kitchen needed to make its way to Florida.
“Fast-casual often connotes certain impressions to people, but this is a great atmosphere. It’s colorful, lively, the textures, colors, and finishes and furniture that [Trina’s] put in is really, really impressive,” says Avery, who notes that Tampa has been an incubator for new restaurants for decades. “There’s nothing out there like this. There’s certainly nothing in Tampa like it. I’ve got a good sense of the industry, and I know that there’s nothing out there operating quite like Mandola’s.”
Fast forward to fall 2020, and the first Florida location is set to open in Riverview on October 26. Mandola and Avery will then direct their attention toward Tampa and other Florida markets, with the overall goal of opening four locations by 2022.
The 5,500-square-foot Riverview location will include indoor seating for about 120 customers and 1,000 square feet of outdoor patio space that can seat 50 guests—a feature that has become crucial for restaurants amid COVID concerns.