Fresh Kitchen, a Tampa-based build-your-own-bowl restaurant chain, will open its first Lakeland site adjacent to the new Aldi store that is set to open in late 2022 on South Florida Avenue at Alamo Drive.
The restaurant has received preliminary site plan approval from the city for a 2,706-square-foot restaurant on a 1.07-acre “pad-ready” parcel at 4520 S. Florida Ave.
Fresh Kitchen President Steven Lanza said Wednesday he was uncertain exactly when the project would break ground other than “eventually” in 2022.
“It’s hard to give an accurate timeline right now when it will open. We’re looking at the beginning of next year,” he said, noting Fresh Kitchen is opening a new restaurant in February with plans to build three others this year.
“Gainesville (opens) in February and after that, Winter Garden, then midtown Miami, and then Lakeland,” Lanza said. “Depending on timing, Lakeland will probably be our 14th” restaurant.
Fresh Kitchen’s menu gives customers a range of options in building their own meals within a single bowl. Popular offerings are the “four bowl” (under $9) which includes two bases, one vegetable, one protein and one sauce, while the “six bowl” (under $11) includes two bases, two vegetables, two proteins and one sauce.
The bases, which are all gluten-free, “non-dairy friendly” and “vegan friendly” without added processed sugar, include — depending on seasonal availability— brown rice, spinach salad, kale slaw, citrus rice, power rice, coconut ginger rice, sweet potato noodles, cauliflower potato mash and baby kale Caesar.
The roasted vegetables include parmesan broccoli, basil mushrooms, sesame green beans, golden spice chickpeas and maple sweet potatoes.
Proteins include grilled citrus chicken, bbq chicken, chilled Caprese tofu, herb grilled steak, roasted salmon and almond baked chicken
Sauces include creamy white ginger, herb balsamic vinaigrette, coconut sriracha, holy kale with a range of add-ons.
Since Fresh Kitchen opened its first restaurant in South Tampa in late 2014, its “health-forward, customizable grab-and-go bowls” have proven popular beyond urban areas such as South Tampa and St. Petersburg.
But would it fly in Lakeland? City officials in site plan reviews questioned if a more suburban location would produce the same volume of “walk-in/sit-down customers” that Fresh Kitchen is projecting.
“We’re not dealing with a different demographic in Lakeland” than elsewhere, Lanza said. “Not really. We are in Winter Garden, Lake Mary, different suburbs. And Lakeland is huge. I don’t think Lakeland is any different than our other markets. We are working with a similar demographic in Lakeland — people want to eat healthy and there are not a lot of healthy options.”
The site, which is currently vacant, used to house a used car lot. It sits between Action Gator Tire and a Golden Corral restaurant that has closed and will be demolished to make way for the Aldi supermarket.