The list of dining spots in Hernando County is growing into a page-turner. Chain restaurants are leading the charge, while some mom-and-pops are rebranding themselves.
The new chains, all in Spring Hill, include Glory Days Grill and LongHorn Steakhouse, which are under construction. Culver’s is in the planning stage. And Zaxby’s already opened.
Why the surge?
"We’re the part of the Tampa Bay region that is just booming. I see (population) creeping northward," said Tammy Heon, coordinator of Hernando County tourism development, who tracks dining to answer visitor queries. Hernando County’s population has swelled to more than 184,000.
"It’s as if it’s our turn," Heon said.
Business development specialist Greg Kullman concurred.
"I think (the restaurant increase) shows the growing population of Hernando County, the communities of Brooksville and Spring Hill," Kullman said. "So, that means more people are eating out."
Kullman, the Pasco-Hernando administrator of SCORE, a business resource group of volunteer retired executives, was pondering where to eat lunch on the day he considered restaurant expansion.
Faster-paced lifestyles, working parents, and retirees with time and disposable income contribute to the demand, Kullman said. "It’s just easier to eat out."
Industry analysts note that diners elsewhere may be turning away from chain restaurants, but Kullman said chains are more attractive here because of their affordability.
Glory Days Grill, Zaxby’s and Culver’s are franchises. LongHorn Steakhouse is owned by Darden Restaurants of Orlando.
"Banks are very reticent to loan money for a new restaurant starting up," Kullman said.
The failure rate of independent startups in their first year can run as high as 40 percent, analysts report. Franchises are less risky.
Nature Coast diners lean toward chain restaurants because they can count on continuity, Heon said. A Red Lobster cheddar biscuit in Pittsburgh breaks the same as one in Spring Hill.
"Pasco (County) is built out with chains," Kullman said, so the move northward into Hernando is a reasonable assumption.
"Those chain restaurants do a boatload of research before they come," Heon said. By her count, Hernando County has more than 200 dining spots.
The newcomers include:
Glory Days Grill, a sports-themed family restaurant at 4101 Cortez Blvd., is eyeing an August opening. One of its features: 60 large-screen TVs tuned to sports, cartoons, news and entertainment channels with volume controlled speaker stations at each table. Its seating capacity of 250 includes an outdoor patio.
Entrees begin at less than $10. Signature dishes include nachos, mac-and-cheese bites, wings, ribs and salads.
Restaurant veteran Rory Marchido, who will manage the eatery with a staff of nearly 80, said, "Knowing the neighborhood, this concept is a perfect fit."
Culver’s, at 12337 Cortez, has a cook-on-order family menu and is famous for its frozen custard treats.
"It’s not ice cream," said Paul Pitas, public relations director for the Wisconsin-based chain.
"Florida has been very welcoming to us, with so many transplanted Wisconsinites," Pitas said, noting nearly 50 outlets in the Sunshine State.
LongHorn Steakhouse expects a fall opening at 12350 Cortez Blvd.
"We’ve identified Brooksville as a great area with long-term growth potential," public relations manager Brittany Baron wrote in an email. Typically, it hires about 60 employees per outlet.
Zaxby’s opened in February at 3042 Anderson Snow Road and serves a chicken-focused menu — sandwiches, fingers and wings — primarily to take-out diners, although the dining area accommodates 95.