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Former GE executive, son open $4M restaurant in Sarasota

New restaurant owners Dan Henson and Dan Henson Jr. have no direct hospitality experience. At Arts & Central in Sarasota, they plan to make up for that with passion and a heightened sense of purpose.

Dan Henson Jr. and his father Dan Henson Sr. have a team of about 60 people at Arts & Central in Sarasota.
Dan Henson Jr. and his father Dan Henson Sr. have a team of about 60 people at Arts & Central in Sarasota.
Photo by Monica Roman Gagnier
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Over the course of a long career with General Electric, Dan Henson Sr. had oversight of GE’s franchise finance business (among other roles), which had about $6 billion in its restaurant portfolio.

“I wasn’t on the [restaurant] operating side, but I learned the P&L and balance sheet side,” he says. “You could see who was doing it well and who was doing it poorly. And when you get past location and food and quality of service, which are huge, it’s not a complicated industry.”

Making his own move into the restaurant industry was always a bucket list goal for Henson. “Everybody’s got the thing they talk about when they’re in the hot tub,” he says. “For my wife and me, it was always we want to have a restaurant. When life slowed down enough that we could have a restaurant, we wanted to do it.”

Life definitely slowed down during pandemic, and after buying an RV the Hensons drove cross country and wound up in Sonoma. While there they landed on a vision for their own restaurant venture.

“Sonoma is full of very casual restaurants with really creative food,” says Henson. “And so that clicked for us. We wanted to have a place that’s casual, that’s warm, that’s welcoming. That has wood tones, comfortable chairs, good service but not stuffy service, and a creative menu.”

That vision is now a reality with the recent opening of Arts & Central in Sarasota’s Rosemary District. The restaurant’s name plays off its buzzy location at the intersection of Central Avenue and Boulevard of the Arts, and it’s the first spot to open in the highly anticipated Parkside development from The Longboat Group, which also developed the nearby CitySide Apartments.

Arts & Central opened Feb. 19 at 611 Central Ave., Sarasota.
Image via

“You’ve got 3,800 apartments and condos within a five-minute walk, with 1,700 more permitted,” says Henson. “So the foot traffic alone here... We want the tourists, we want people from outside of the Rosemary, but we’re hoping we’ll also be a neighborhood staple.”

It’s a family affair at Arts & Central, with Henson’s son, Dan Henson Jr., also part of the venture. Previously in the commercial real estate insurance industry in Texas, the younger Henson and his wife moved to Sarasota in 2022 to join the new family business. “Not a lot of [my past career experience] translates,” says Henson Jr., 32. “But I’m no stranger to long hours…In the job I was in before this, the days were long. So I think I’ll feel pretty comfortable with opening and closing and getting through that.”

It took several years to get to this point. The Hensons originally looked at sites east of Interstate 75 off Fruitville Road. A cold call to Barron Schimberg at Sarasota’s Schimberg Group got the architect on board the project, and he helped the family find, design and build out the restaurant’s Rosemary District home. The entire project cost about $4 million.

While getting their site up and running, the first-time restaurant owners got a crash course in the regulations involved in the food service business, the city- and state-level permitting process and what it takes to establish relationships with vendors. “Everything took twice as long and cost twice as much,” laughs Henson Sr.

The restaurant has a staff of about 60 the Hensons assembled after weeding through hundreds of applications. “We’ve had good luck finding a lot of really good candidates,” says Henson Jr. “There are really solid people out there.”

Thorough training was a vital step before Arts & Central’s mid-February opening. “We made sure they’d tasted the dishes,” says Henson Sr. “They had to critique the dishes; they had to sample the cocktails and the zero-proof cocktails. We want them to be knowledgeable.”

Executive chef Erik Walker runs the show in the back of the house. “We wanted people who could run this restaurant without us but would be better with us,” says Henson Sr. “That was critical.”

Arts & Central offers a "dirty rotten" fruit salad.
Image courtesy of Jessica Guadagno

Keeping staff happy and providing high quality service will be an important component of the restaurant’s success. “We are striving to be an environment of mutual respect,” says Henson Jr. “They can come to us, and we can come to them. And we’re just trying to deliver an environment where they’re financially making what they want and we’re providing them with systemic support.”

“You have to move aggressively when you see somebody who doesn’t fit the culture,” adds Henson Sr. “We already had to take some action just a few days in with a couple of people who weren’t going to be a positive dynamic on the team. You can’t be afraid of doing that just because it’s hard to find folks.”

The food’s also obviously a key component to getting customers in the doors and coming back. “Erik’s very creative; he’s given tremendous thought into what he’s put on the menu,” says Henson Sr. “And we don’t want to be static. We want the menu to change. At a lot of restaurants in Sarasota, the menus don’t change that often. Ours will have new items on a regular basis.”

Arts & Central will also play up the Sarasota arts scene by featuring a monthly rotation of work by local poets and artists on the restaurant’s menus. That’s another facet that will spark conversation and help draw people in. 

“The restaurant ecosystem in Sarasota is a competitive dynamic,” says Henson Sr. “But if the food is good enough and creative enough and of a high enough quality, I think people will talk.”



Beth Luberecki

Nokomis-based freelance writer Beth Luberecki, a Business Observer contributor, writes about business, travel and lifestyle topics for a variety of Florida and national publications. Her work has appeared in publications and on websites including Washington Post’s Express, USA Today, Florida Trend, and Learn more about her at

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