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Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014
Food & Dining

Downtown Tampa deli a first for TooJays chain

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Published:   |   Updated: June 11, 2014 at 08:14 PM

— The TooJay’s Gourmet Deli on the ground floor of downtown Tampa’s SunTrust Financial Centre will break new ground for the company when it opens June 23.

The almost 4,500-square-foot restaurant will be the first in an urban office building setting for the Florida-flavored New York-style delicatessens known for their dense chocolate Killer Cake, overstuffed Reuben sandwiches and other Jewish-style comfort food.

It also will be the first TooJay’s in the 32-year-old Florida chain to debut a sleeker, more modern decor that utilizes darker wood tones, penny-round tile flooring and digital menu boards behind the front counter to help walk-up customers place their orders.

The goal is to create a visual archetype for future TooJay’s restaurants and to test the concept in an office building environment, Chief Operating Officer Neal Chianese said Tuesday.

The 24 existing TooJay’s restaurants throughout the state, including the one built in 2001 at International Plaza in Tampa, will be redesigned to change the dining room’s aesthetics away from the exposed brick walls, sandwich board signs, silk planters and pastel vinyl booths. Employees also will wear a new style of uniform.

The Brookdale Group, an Atlanta real estate investment firm that owns the SunTrust building, invited TooJay’s to consider the downtown space, which had been vacant for more than a year.

TooJay’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week at all other locations. For the SunTrust restaurant, which will have 70 seats indoors and 54 on an outdoor patio, the company will instead focus on breakfast and lunch during workdays and providing quick, grab-and-go food for busy office workers.

“We saw an opportunity to get outside of what we’ve done for 32 years,” Chianese said. “This is kind of like a pilot program for us. It’s something we’ve never done.”

Providing catering services to the 2,500 employees working for law firms and corporate clients in the 35-floor SunTrust building, as well for the surrounding downtown area, was key to the restaurant chain’s interest, Chianese said.

“That’s a real opportunity for us,” he said.

If the Tampa prototype is successful, TooJay’s expects to take the concept to office building spaces in Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and other large Florida cities with dense downtown professional environments.

On Sept. 1, TooJay’s will open a location on Polk Parkway in Lakeland. The company also recently signed a lease for a third restaurant in The Villages.

Chianese said the expansion is unrelated to the 2013 purchase of the company by Branford Castle, a New York-based private equity firm that purchased the chain for an undisclosed amount. The most recent projects were all underway before the sale, he said.

“We’re looking for controlled, incremental and sustained growth,” Chianese said. “We want to continue to expand in Florida. There are still a lot of markets and opportunities in Florida. Then we want to work to break boundaries outside the state.”

jhouck@tampatrib.com

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