PLANT CITY - A restaurant that has been pressing some of the best Cuban sandwiches in Plant City for two decades is adding indoor seating for the first time.
Construction at the Strawberry Hut starts next month to add seating for about 30 guests and additional kitchen and service space.
“We've needed to expand for a long time,” said Troy Wilson, who owns the restaurant with his wife Betty. “We've have had requests for indoor seating over the years. It's time.”
The building, south of Interstate 4 at 1505 N. Wheeler St., has long been a local landmark. It was constructed in the 1950s as a Supertest gas station and once included a garage, said Shelby Bender, a local historian who grew up in the neighborhood.
Supertest operated there until at least the late 1970s, said Bender, who is president of the East Hillsborough Historical Society. After the gas station closed, it became a doughnut shop and then an ice cream and sandwich shop.
Strawberry Hut, which opened there 20 years ago, currently has walk up windows for customers to order their food, which they can take to go or sit at covered picnic tables.
The new construction will more than triple the building's size to 1,852 square feet and provide much-needed room for employees to maneuver in the kitchen and serve more customers. The existing building will be converted to indoor seating, including plenty of window views.
Strawberry Hut manager Jill Thorpe estimates that 90 percent of Cuban orders are pressed, and the new kitchen will accommodate additional equipment. With up to eight employees working at a time in a small space, Thorpe is looking forward to the expansion.
“We're excited, can't wait,” she said. “We're always bumping into each other.”
But it's not just the staff who will benefit from the expanded kitchen and serving area.
“With short lunch periods, there will be more room to take and made orders,” Wilson said. “We're trying to service people better and faster.”
With about half of Strawberry Hut customers calling in their orders for pick-up, they know their customers well. “People give us a name and we know what they want,” Wilson said.
Open Monday through Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. the eatery will continue to serve up great value from breakfast through dinner. To limit customer wait time even further, Wilson said he is looking into adding ready-made all-fresh deli style sandwiches and salads.
Picking up two foot-long pressed Cubans to take home for dinner, customer Vicky Gause is glad about the new additions.
“They need indoor seating when it's too hot out,” she said. “When it's cooler, we sit outside.”
There is no mistaking the Strawberry Hut's faithful.
“The best place for Cubans is right here,” Gause said.
Elaine Speer is a freelance writer and be contacted at email@example.com