Just a concession stand? Far from it!

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Siesta Beach Eats has blown away the typical expectations of a day on the sand

By Ned Steele

Ahhh, a day at the beach. What’s better?

Well, maybe a day at the beach with a fine lunch at your side and a cold soft drink (or even a beer!) at hand.

And what, you ask, could top a day at the beach with said lunch and drink?

How about … a day at the beach, accompanied by lunch and drink ordered online, freshly prepared, and delivered right to you?

Yes, through a miraculous combination of technological innovation and customer-focused service, such an amazing experience is now yours for the asking on Siesta Beach, courtesy of Siesta Beach Eats, operator of the beach’s food stands.

Hot dogs for the kids? A chicken Caesar wrap for you? Wash it down with a refreshing brewski … or even a margarita? All you need do is pick up your phone and order digitally. Before long a jaunty golf cart will be bouncing your way with an in-person delivery.

Tara Purnell with an up-close-and-personal food delivery. (photo by Ned Steele)

Fresh food delivery is the latest and most dramatic in a series of enhancements at Siesta Beach Eats dating back to 2021 when a new operator, Venice Pier Group, took over the concessions. Freshly prepared food replaced the previous fare; new items including healthier options were added to the menu, and the beverage repertoire was expanded. Last December, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) delivery to the beach began. A month later, nearly the full food menu became delivery-available.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association said app-based beach delivery like the Siesta Beach Eats system is catching on for poolside dining at large resorts. “It’s innovative and generally a ‘win-win’ for both the guests and the business,” said spokesperson Ashley Chambers. But the association hasn’t heard of any other beach taking on this innovation without a large resort running it, she said.

Lydia Smith and her boyfriend Joe Fagnano were instant converts to the new service. Spring breakers from Buffalo, they spotted one of the flag signs Siesta Beach Eats planted near the four lifeguard towers and snapped the QR code on it.  

It didn’t take long for Siesta Beach Eats’ doyenne of delivery, Carissa Crum, to load up one of the service’s two golf carts and amble out with a mango margarita that Lydia immediately pronounced “very yummy.”

“This is amazing,” she said. “I’m impressed.”

Carissa Crum lets everyone know how an order can be placed. (photo by Ned Steele)

Next stop on Carissa’s run was Jeff (“I don’t want my name in the paper”) from Kentucky. Having trekked earlier to the Sun Deck pavilion for lunch, he was now thirsty. And tired.

“That was quite a walk up to there,” he said, gesturing at the concession stand. “I thought, ‘Well, let me try this.’”

In his hands seconds later was a can of cold beer, a few more for his pals, and one for a new friend he had just met. “She’s on the next chair, she seems nice,” he explained.

Carissa’s route ended with Tara Parnell of Winter Haven. Two White Claws and an ice cream. “The walk,” Tara said simply when asked what had motivated her to try the new service for the first time.

Returning to the main stand to reload, Carissa was flagged down by a passerby who had deduced, correctly, that the cart’s cooler would be loaded with extra beverages available for impromptu purchase. She stopped with a smile to serve him, then steered back to the stand. It had been a straightforward trip – she’s already risen to the challenge of bachelorettes parties (a dozen assorted wraps and hot dogs) and college reunions (Coronas and chicken tenders.)

Back at the Sand Pavilion area, Siesta Beach Eats general manager Maureen Gresk was overseeing the concession’s two food stand’s ultimate test: lunchtime on a sunny spring break day. Menu items – salads, rice bowls, wraps, tacos, mahi-mahi and sweet-spicy chicken sandwiches – were being assembled from scratch with fresh ingredients and served up with a smile to customers. Plenty of the traditional, too: hot dogs, chicken tenders and nachos.

Based on the blackened chicken Caesar salad wrap this visitor sampled, the offerings are first rate: crisp, firm lettuce; tangy dressing; and properly seasoned fresh chicken.

A 13-year employee who was kept on after the management change in 2021, Maureen takes pride in her operation and her staff – all 45 of them. “People see a stand at the beach and think, snack bar,” she said. “We are well above that. We’re a real restaurant.”

Manager Maureen Gresk with one of the delicious wraps that are served. (photo by Ned Steele)

In addition to the switch to fresh-made – even the tacos come on homemade shells, and the chicken and beef are fresh not frozen, and prepped on-site – the big change under Venice Pier Group, which owns Sharky’s, Fins and Snook Haven, has been menu innovation and expansion. BLT wraps and hot ham and cheese sandwiches are among the latest additions. Up on the Sun Deck stand, where bright blue table umbrellas have replaced mournful black ones, the company is contemplating a future sunset dinner menu.

The whole package embodies what director of operations Mike Gross describes as the company philosophy: “We want to be a destination, with multiple visits. We’re building a lifetime customer more than a single visit,” he said.

Sarasota County, which runs the beach and selected Venice Pier Group, seems pleased with the results. Jonathan Poyner, who oversees the beach for the county, praised the concession’s “amazing food and service,” saying the staff “provides speedy service and is very friendly.”

The mother and daughter team of Nicole (left) and Marcy Nuncio hand off a refreshing drink at the Sand Pavilion. (photo by Ned Steele)
Ned Steele
Author: Ned Steele

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