Local bar and restaurant Food + Beer opened a new location in the Rosemary District this week. The new location, in the former Blue Rooster space, is co-owners Mike Whalen's and Casey Daniels' fifth location in five years.
“Everything about our growth has been organic," Whalen says. "If someone had told us five years ago that we’d have five restaurants, I would have said, ‘Yeah probably not.' But as the restaurants have grown and opportunities have come available, we’ve thought, ‘Hey, we could do another one over here or over there.'”
And although the pair are celebrating their newest location, they continue to have their sights set on the future, with hopeful plans to continue their expansion throughout the area and beyond.
“We wouldn’t want to go too far away, but anywhere that’s drive-able," Whalen says. "Sarasota is our center and now we’re looking to grow from the center."
“We have very active roles in all of the restaurants,” Daniels interjects.
Daniels and Whalen, who both hail from the Sarasota County area, attribute their close partnership as the secret to their success. The duo met 20 years ago while working in a corporate restaurant. They continued to cross paths at different restaurant concepts before deciding to open a place of their own.
“We felt like we had some pretty good ideas, and we know we can count on each other," Whalen explains. "So, we opened the spot in Gulf Gate in 2018, and from there it developed and developed and developed again."
“We have a very good partnership. We agree, we disagree, but we both know there is still a job to be done,” Daniels adds.
The new Food + Beer location features the same late hours and food and drink menu as the other locations. But its high ceilings, rich blue tones, and comfortable seating are a far cry from the smaller location that first opened in Gulf Gate. That spot was initially geared toward the service industry, with late-night offerings available until 1 a.m. during the week and 2 a.m. on the weekends.
“We wanted a place that people could come to when they were done with their jobs. A place where they could get a bite to eat, a drink and not feel rushed to get out,” Whalen says. “And now, just because a location is Food + Beer doesn’t mean it has to look the same as the others. We want the food and drinks to be consistent throughout, but the atmosphere and people who come in are different in every neighborhood. The way the restaurants are run is all very similar, but the vibes shift with each location.”
Since Whalen and Daniels spend so much time managing the restaurants in person, they eat through the menu regularly. Daniels loves the peanut butter and jelly wings, which he swears are a traditional choice (but sound unconventional to this writer).
“It’s such a surprise to people when they actually try them,” he says of the wings. “They’re sweet, salty and savory. They cover the whole gamut.”
For Whalen, nothing beats the Mexican street corn, made with chipotle mayonnaise, feta and cilantro. He even likes to eat it cold the next day if he doesn’t have time while working.
Both agree that they will continue to revamp the menu on a regular basis in order to attract new clientele and excited regulars.
“We’re always going to be looking at new things to put on and take off. People don’t love the idea of us taking things off, but we have to keep it fresh,” says Daniels.
“Yeah, we have to keep it fresh, consistent and manageable. We don’t want people who have been coming for five years to get tired of it,” Whalen says. “We want to give people the kind of place we feel they were looking for. Somewhere reasonably priced, fun and a good place to hang out."
Food + Beer is open until 1 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Brunch begins at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The new restaurant is located at 1525 Fourth St., Sarasota. For more information visit the website.