The white-hot restaurant Boca Kitchen Bar and Market in Tampa may be less than a year old, but success has put it on a fast track.
Owners of the upper-tier, farm-to-table restaurant at 901 W. Platt St., Tampa, have hired real estate brokers and are targeting three potential areas for their second location.
"At the fastest, we should be built out and open in a year," said Boca executive chef and business partner Ted Dorsey, who helped build the restaurant with Tampa restaurant legend Gordon Davis. "So if you know of an old gas station we could renovate, let me know."
That retro ethos and farm-to-table concept is something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, customers are packing the restaurant for ultra-fresh, chef-designed food. On the other hand, replicating such an individual operation is exceptionally complex.
While a fast-food restaurant has pre-made building designs, Dorsey envisions renovating an old building with character. While most sit-down restaurants have a pre-designed menu, Boca re-invents its menu almost weekly and makes everything onsite — often based on an individual ingredient that's ripe at a local farm. They print menus in-house because they change so often.
While a chain restaurant can use a standard training program, Dorsey personally mentors his kitchen staff to a level when they can help invent their own dishes to keep the concept "chef driven."
For instance, Dorsey himself is a barbecue fan and designed the Kimilwick sandwich, price $13. They hand-cure the beef, make their own garlic herb boursin sauce and make their own pickles onsite.
The menu lists one item simply as "Staff Meal, Just order it, the chef says you'll love it." Price $16.
Running a single site location that way is one thing. Expanding to even a second site is another altogether.
Boca buys ingredients from dozens of individual farms in surrounding counties, each selected by the chefs for a particular dish. For instance, a father-and-son team of fishermen personally scuba dive down each day to spear a certain type of fish for specific entrees.
"With a line-caught or net-caught fish, you never really know what you're going to bring up," Dorsey said. "These guys are swimming down there and they can see each fish they catch, and decide which ones they want." That means larger fish, caught fresher, and Dorsey says it has a more delicate texture because the fish was dispatched instantly.
Boca has been busy almost since opening day, but the RNC convention gave it another boost. The Washington Post named Boca a restaurant that D.C. politicos must visit while in Tampa. "We had senators, governors, the mayor of Los Angeles — I lost track of them all," Dorsey said.
Dorsey and Davis are targeting three potential areas for their next Boca: downtown St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and perhaps Brandon.
Any site would have to be an existing building with character — something they could renovate in the same genre of rough-hewn timber beams, large windows and a farm-stand feel.
"Finding the right location is crucial," Dorsey said, because like the food, "It's crucial to be done right."