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Sarasota brewery readies third location and second in Lakewood Ranch

With a "nothing ordinary" kind of menu and a customer-first beer selection, Big Top Brewery has big plans for location No. 3.

  • By Jay Heater
  • | 5:00 a.m. April 17, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Artwork in the new Big Top gives a tip of the hat to Sarasota's connection with the circus industry.
Artwork in the new Big Top gives a tip of the hat to Sarasota's connection with the circus industry.
Photo by Jay Heater
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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It's Big Top Brewing, it's a big building, and it's a big risk.

The ownership team of Seth Murauskas, Mike Bisaha and Josh Wilson knew they were taking a risk when they decided to build an 18,000-square-foot building to house their newest restaurant/brewery at Sarasota's Fruitville Commons, at the southern edge of Lakewood Ranch.

"We have it all on the line here," says Bisaha, who expects the restaurant/brewery to open by mid-April.

Bisaha notes the three friends and co-owners are not some large corporation with endless resources. However, they have built Big Top's reputation over the last 10 years (their anniversary was April 1), starting with their Sarasota restaurant/brewery just to the west of Interstate 75 in Sarasota. They also have a Lakewood Ranch location at 2507 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.

The new location at 3045 Fruitville Commons Blvd. is just to the east of I-75, which Bisaha says is a key point to making such a large facility profitable.

"Beer can be a tourism business," Bisaha says. "Big Top started on I-75. It's easy access."

The brewery area will house a dozen 3,000-gallon tanks to craft the beer.
Photo by Jay Heater

Fruitville Commons also offers a cluster of restaurants, with a popular Cooper's Hawk and Twin Peaks. Bisaha says rather than competition, those type of restaurants will draw more attention to the new business and they, when combined, will make Fruitville Commons a dining destination for both locals and visitors. 

Big Top will be able to host about 700 guests at a time with outdoor seating for about 200. The outdoor area should be a hit, with a long bar that can seat about 60 guests and more than 100 Adirondack polywood-style chairs that not only offer comfortable seating, but should be resilient when it comes to the weather.

The owners say their speciality is beer, so they hired two regional food gurus, Joe Guli and Joe Seidensticker (Clear Play Concepts) to manage the restaurant side of the business. 

Co-owners Mike Bisaha and Seth Murauskas stand next to the art that greets patrons when they come through the door of soon-to-open Big Top Brewing at the Fruitville Commons.
Photo by Jay Heater

Guli's background includes being the former president of Scratch Concepts, Burger 21 and Grillsmith Restaurant Group. He has been regional vice president for Cheesecake Factory and was the corporate chef for the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant Group. Besides the Clear Play Concepts management group he co-founded with Seidensticker, he also is the CEO of the Tableseide Restaurant Group.

Seidensticker is the co-founder of the Tableseide Restaurant Group, Oak & Stone and now Clear Play Concepts, which also handles Good Liquid Brewing Company at Waterside in Lakewood Ranch.

"We had to hire a team organization, one that had the skill to execute," Bisaha says. "In the Sarasota area, there were few choices, and Joe and Joe just stand above the rest.

"We didn't want bar food. We wanted elevated food," Bisaha adds.

It takes only 30 seconds to understand Guli isn't about to deliver "bar food."

Consider the pizza. 

On that front, Guli talks about the concept's "pizza dough program." It utilizes Caputo flours blended together at room temperature that are sealed for 24 hours in a container during the fermentation process. After a day-and-a-half process that becomes the crust. 

"I want our pizza program to be unique," Guli says. "It will be a blend of New York and Neapolitan styles with super high quality ingredients."

Joe Guli of Clear Plate Concepts will manage the restaurant side of the business for Big Top.
Photo by Jay Heater

"The facility is massive," Guli continues. "The menu ... there will be something for everyone. I call it comfort food with a twist. We will be using a lot of local elements."

Clear Plate Concepts also will go across the country to bring in exceptional quality. For example, Big Top's brisket-blend burger will consist of meat shipped from Colorado.

Guli says a big part of his job will be making sure the kitchen staff can get the food to the servers in an efficient manner.

"It is such a massive building, we have been figuring out the right footprint," he says. "We have to figure out the flow of the kitchen. We will be making 36 menu items from scratch."

Guli says he has hired 111 of the 130 workers needed to open the doors.

If that isn't enough on the food side, Guli says food trucks could be used to serve the outdoor customers.

The high ceilings in the 18,000-square-foot Big Top restaurant/brewery are striking.
Photo by Jay Heater

"It would be things like grilled oysters or a taco truck," he says. "We will have live entertainment and kiosk outside to order from. 

He says a fun piece of Big Top will be pairing food and beer.

"They plan their beers out annually, so you can plan a menu out six months ahead," Guli says.

With 32 craft beers on draft and a canned selection, that's a lot of pairings.

As excited as Guli is about the food, Murauskas, Bisaha and Wilson can't wait to begin serving up their beer.

When it comes to beer, Bisaha says the customers are the boss.

"That's who we work for," he says. 

Mauraskas and Bisaha were Sarasota neighbors a decade ago who would talk about making their own beer. They knew Wilson, who had been making his own beer for 20 years. Less than a year later they were in business together. They decided to give Sarasota's famed circus culture a tip of the hat with their name and theme, and away they went.

Now they serve draft beers such as Hazy Sky Wire and Circus City IPA. The artwork in the restaurant reflects that connection.

Up next? The owners await a dozen 3,000 gallon tanks to arrive to brew on site. Until the tanks are installed (expected a month or two after opening), they will serve their product made at their other two locations. Big Top's head brewer is Jordan Perrin.

The Brewery will take up about a third on the business. On March 29, tables were arriving and being placed to serve about 500 people. "Hopefully we will fill it quick," Mauraskas says.

This article originally appeared on sister site



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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