Sweet Tomatoes opening near Port Richey with Red Cross fundraiser
PORT RICHEY - National restaurant chain Sweet Tomatoes, a favorite among the fresh-and-healthy eating set, is about to open its first location in West Pasco, and to get acquainted with their new neighborhood, the restaurant will hold a pre-opening fundraiser. The new Sweet Tomatoes, at 10156 U.S. 19, will officially open on Monday, March 7. But often before a new restaurant opens, they like to have what they call training days, a dry run so the entire operation can work as a team under realistic conditions. Often the restaurant staff invites family and friends to come and be the customers. Instead, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 - 8 p.m. Friday, March 4, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 5, the restaurant will open its doors to the general public. Sweet Tomatoes, which is known for its giant salad bar, made-from-scratch soups and hand-crafted muffins, focaccia, breads and desserts, operates on an "all-you-care-to-eat" basis. During this two-day warm-up, customers can eat for $5, every penny of which will be donated to the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross.Tracy Marks, a spokeswoman for Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., which operates Souplantation restaurants in Southern California and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants elsewhere in the country, explained the San Diego-based chain has a "FunRaiser" program that makes its restaurants available to nonprofit groups to hold events. About three years ago, as the company was rapidly expanded throughout the South, it was decided to use these dress rehearsals as FunRaisers. "For every grand opening, we partner with a local nonprofit organization," Marks said. These two-day events generate between $5,000 and $10,000. Along with the $5 feast, Sweet Tomatoes will be selling $5 goodie bags. The cloth totes will bear the Sweet Tomatoes logo, and will hold a Sweet Tomatoes T-shirt, along with coupons. American Red Cross chapters across the country have been the beneficiary of several of these grand opening fundraisers, Marks said. The organization's disaster relief efforts, its international humanitarian aid and its role as the supplier of nearly half the nation's blood supply makes supporting them an easy choice. Judy Pontiff, community relations manager at the Red Cross' New Port Richey branch, is equally excited at the opportunity to team up with Sweet Tomatoes. "Fundraising is down this year," Pontiff said, but the need for the Red Cross never ends, so this opportunity couldn't have come at a better time. The money will go into a fund at the regional office in Tampa, but it will be noted that the money was raised for relief efforts in Pasco County, she said. Pontiff was also excited because she is a Sweet Tomatoes fan, and she thinks the light, airy atmosphere of the restaurant will be a great place for a fundraiser. As guests are exploring the 45-foot salad bar, Pontiff said, the Red Cross will have volunteers there passing out free Vials of Life, a little something the Red Cross came up with to make sure patients' important medical information is available to emergency responders even if the person being rescued is unable to communicate. The vial is a container that looks something like a prescription bottle. Inside the bottle is a form that has important medical information, such as what medications a person is on, any allergies and things like that. Pontiff said guests at the fundraiser will be encouraged to take three vials, to keep in their cars, their refrigerator and their evacuation kits. The party is open to the general public both days. When the Sweet Tomatoes in Port Richey opens for regular business on March 7, its hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit www.sweetomatoes.com .