A fast-growing Tex-Mex quick casual chain, founded in Miami in 2004, is expanding quickly on the Gulf Coast.
The restaurant, Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, now a division of Maryville, Tenn.-based Ruby Tuesday Inc., opened its first Gulf Coast location in May near the International Plaza mall in Tampa. A second location is scheduled to open July 31 at the Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg. “We are excited about the entire state of Florida,” Lime Fresh operating partner Mike Hedrick tells Coffee Talk. “We are very optimistic about growth in the state.”
Miami-area restaurateur John Kunkel founded Lime Fresh in South Beach, and grew the chain to 15 locations, mostly in Florida. Ruby Tuesday bought Lime Fresh in April 2012 for $24 million. In a release on the acquisition, the firm says it hopes to open 20 Lime Fresh locations in 2013 and up to 30 more in 2014.
Hedrick calls the Lime Fresh concept “a step above quick-service,” where there are no trash cans in the dining rooms. And like several other new entries to quick casual, fresh is a big push: Hedrick boasts that there are no can-openers, freezers or microwaves at Lime Fresh locations, so nothing sits in pre-prepared purgatory.
There are currently 16 Lime Fresh locations in Florida, with the concentration in the southeast part of the state and the Orlando area. There are 26 stores total nationwide, with a presence in Alabama, North Carolina and Ohio, among other states. Hedrick says the Tampa store, so far, has exceeded sales expectations, with an especially busy weekday lunch rush. “We're not just a fast-food joint,” says Hedrick. “We want to be a neighborhood hangout.”