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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Little Greek chain has big area growth plans

— The Little Greek fast-casual restaurant chain pinpointed four new Central Florida locations and one in Texas this week, following up on an aggressive expansion strategy announced in December.

Company president Nick Vojnovic said Tuesday that restaurants in Valrico, Clearwater, Spring Hill and Orlando will open by the fourth quarter of this year. Of those, the Valrico spot is expected to open first, likely in late July or early August, Vojnovic said.

Another in Colleyville, Texas, just outside of Fort Worth, also is planned to open later this year.

The Mediterranean-themed, chain, which serves a variety of Greek salads, gyros, soups and grilled meat on skewers, is expected to occupy a spot vacated by Formaggio’s Pizza, which operated a take-out storefront in the Lithia Crossing Shopping Center on Lithia-Pinecrest Road late last year before construction of a Fresh Market took place.

Vojnovic said a decision has yet to be made whether the Valrico franchise will be a sit-down restaurant or a delivery service.

“With Fresh Market there, the parking is a little tight,” he said. “It’s gotten better since they opened in April, but we’ll take a look at it.”

Vojnovic was scheduled to scout several locations this week in and around Orlando, in addition to property near Clearwater Beach and Spring Hill.

“Orlando is the next big one we want to expand in,” marketing manager Jennifer Bujalski said.

Vojnovic said the Florida expansion is an attempt to tap into the regional popularity of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. Tampa ranks third behind Chicago and New York City in per-capita consumption of gyros, he said.

The most recent opening of Little Greek took place in early April in Trinity, off State Road 54 and Little Road. The company, which has 13 Florida locations, three in Texas and one in Arkansas, plans to expand to a total of 50 over the next five years. Vojnovic, a former Beef O’ Brady’s executive, joined Little Greek founder Sigrid Bratic in April 2001 with the goal of expanding the original four-unit franchise throughout Tampa Bay and beyond.

Little Greek’s expansion is needed to keep pace with competing national restaurant chains, Vojnovic said.

That competition includes Zoe’s Kitchen, a Texas-based Mediterranean fast-casual chain that in April raised $87.5 million in an initial public stock offering. Also battling for position in the market is Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, a fast-casual Greek food-inspired chain from Birmingham, Alabama, which told its franchisees in May that it plans to have 50 locations open or under construction by the end of this year.

“The bigger I get, the better I can do on purchasing, real estate and construction,” Vojnovic said. “You can bring more resources to the effort.”

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