The Food + Beer guys used their first restaurant locale in Gulf Gate as a springboard to phenomenal growth
By Jane Bartnett
Food + Beer, the welcoming neighborhood restaurant that’s one of the most popular eateries in Gulf Gate, has become a major player in the Sarasota restaurant scene — and even beyond.
Since opening in Gulf Gate’s own Superior Avenue in 2018, it has seen the rapid-fire opening of four other locations in greater Sarasota and one in Lakeland.
That makes six in those six years.
Owners Mike Whalen of Riverview High School and Casey Daniels, two guys who met while working as managers in the corporate restaurant business in the early 2000s, have taken their concept of offering a friendly atmosphere while combined with great food, a vast selection of draft beers and a full shelf of top-grade liquors, to new heights.
“We seem to have found the recipe for success,” said Daniels.
In 2019, the Fruitville Road location became their second restaurant. It was soon followed by locations in Bradenton in 2021 and Venice in 2022. In January 2023, the pair opened their downtown Sarasota restaurant and in August 2023 the duo opened in Lakeland.
That most-recent location was a departure from their Sarasota base but Daniels explained it is a growth area — and the newest restaurant is indeed thriving.
“We’re just two guys who open up restaurants,” said Daniels. “We’re gonna keep doing it that way. We’re self-funded and our plan is to open one new store a year.”
Looking back on their growth during the past six years that took them through the COVID-19 years, Daniels recalled that early on the partners focused on success.
“We put everything we had on the table when we opened the first Food + Beer in Gulf Gate. We decided on the name Food + Beer because we didn’t have a liquor license at the time,” he said.
The concept appears simple, yet Daniels explained that as the pair opened new restaurants it kept their focus on the concept that propelled them to success at the Gulf Gate location.
“We listen to what people are looking for. We’re not sports-oriented all the time,” he said.
In fact, at different times of the day, the clientele may be made up primarily families or people going out for a casual meal with friends. On a big game day, Food + Beer takes on a sports bar feeling but on a Sunday morning it’s a brunch crowd.
“We opened an arcade in the Gulf Gate restaurant for people who want to go out late at night and have something to do. Earlier in the evening, kids and families enjoy stopping in the arcade.
“The focus is always on having a place to drop by wind down and have something good to eat.”
Having created a model that works with strong neighborhood appeal, he has understood that there is a continuing need and interest in establishing a comfortable scene where people can feel at home. “We’ve worked hard to make Food + Beer be a place that everyone can be comfortable,” Daniels said.
That, he explained, includes attention to the atmosphere as well as the menu.
“The menu is always fresh. Everything here is made from scratch,” he said.
Meanwhile, the decor in every Food + Beer is similar in design — comfortable seating at the bar, in booths and at tables; lots of wood; and interesting murals by local Sarasota artist David Lee. They provide that feel.
Daniels also said that Food + Beer’s new seasonal menu offerings have been a success and a good way to try-out new recipes. The “Winter Flavors Menu” features Rangoon mozzarella sticks, Korean beef bowl, and lamb burgers. The spring months will bring new items as well.
Trivia is among the joint’s popular draws, and it takes center stage on Wednesday evenings beginning at 6:30 p.m. Then, every Saturday and Sunday there’s that extensive weekend brunch menu featuring a bottomless mimosa bar from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It has been a hit.
Going forward, Gulf Gate continues to be the base and touchpoint for Whalen and Daniels.
“Gulf Gate, like all of Sarasota, is booming. We couldn’t be happier there,” said Daniels. “After all, Gulf Gate is a place that people love to hang out.”