Manatee County-based, family-owned restaurant chain has three new locations in the works.
When Patrick, Casey and Rowen Coleman started Poppo's Taqueria in 2013, it started out as something they thought they'd do for fun. Casey was between jobs at the time, Patrick had just graduated from school, and he and his wife, Rowen, had just come down to Sarasota for a visit.
The three of them knew Florida didn't have a lot of places where people could get the protein-forward, mission-style Mexican cuisine they ate growing up in Northern California, so they thought their restaurant would probably do well. But once they opened the first Poppo's on Anna Maria Island in 2013, things started moving much faster than anticipated.
Within a year, they had opened their second restaurant on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton. Stores on 53rd Avenue East and in the Shoppes at University Town Center followed. And now, six years after they opened, Poppo's is getting ready to open three new locations — including their first out-of-market eatery.
"We thought we could do it well, but we didn't anticipate the kind of growth we've seen," Patrick Coleman said.
The Manatee County-based, family-owned restaurant chain has three new locations in the works. The first, and closest to opening, is in downtown Sarasota in the former Bohemian Bliss Boutique space at 1544 Main St. The second is in St. Petersburg. And the third is in Bradenton at 5942 34th St. W.
The planned new Bradenton location is going to be a little different from what loyal customers might be used to seeing at Poppo's. Its main purpose is to serve as the company's central kitchen, a place where they can prepare certain dishes under one roof and then distribute them to other restaurants. But it'll also have a takeout window and an experimental kitchen where Poppo's will test out some new menu items and see what takeout customers think of them, Patrick Coleman said.
"Some of our food items, we prepare centrally and distribute to the stores ourselves. Obviously that doesn't include items that need to be made fresh every single morning like pico de gallo and guacamole — that's all made on-site. But we are building out a new central kitchen for doing those items that we do produce centrally and we just had a bunch of space, and we had been thinking about this outpost concept, so we thought, 'Let's try it,'" Patrick Coleman said.
It's basically going to be a service window, he said — there isn't any inside seating. They're hoping that model will lead to a lot of online orders.
"We don't want to step on the businesses we already have in Bradenton," Patrick Coleman said.
According to 2018 data from research firm The NPD Group, visits to fast-casual restaurants grew by 6 percent between 2013 and 2018. NPD classifies fast-casual restaurants as quick-service eateries that offer more service and higher-quality food than other fast food restaurants — but with a higher average check size. The percentage of visits grew mostly as a result of store openings, NPD reported. The group named Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread, Panda Express and Raising Canes as the top growing fast-casual chains in terms of customer visits.
Unlike those restaurants, however, Poppo's does not plan to franchise its concept, Patrick Coleman said. It's not something they're interested in doing because he thinks it's outdated and that you can do just as well expanding locally, slowly, he said. He cited In-N-Out Burger in California as an example of this.
"They've got a small, amazing concept that they're maintained control of, and so their quality is great, their customers are loyal and their service is fantastic," he said. "They're able to do cool things, like their secret menu and so forth, where on a franchise model you don't know what you're getting with franchise owners. You have to work with whatever their level of commitment is."
Instead, Poppo's plans to continue to expand locally and serve the population here.
"I think that serves us well. I think we bring something to the community that people value," Patrick Coleman said.
Other fast-casual restaurants of various sizes have chosen to go the franchise route. 3 Pepper Burrito, the Cape Coral-based Mexican chain that just opened its first Sarasota location in January, plans to begin franchising soon, co-founder Justin O'Brien said. They're 95 percent along in the process, he said.
"We plan to add no more than an additional five locations this year, only one of which would be a franchise," O'Brien said. At this time, however, they're going to be franchising only in Florida. They're trying to be careful, he said.
With the sheer amount of fast-casual Mexican chains out there, O'Brien said what sets 3 Pepper Burrito apart from the others is the fact that they fresh-press their tortillas in front of you. Poppo's does the same thing, but their cuisines are different.
"In a strong market like Sarasota, there is always room for more similar brands," O'Brien said.