CLEARWATER — A new restaurant, fresh off the vine, is coming to Clearwater Mall. It's a new experiment by a well-known national chain.
Sweet Tomatoes Express will be a smaller, quick-serve restaurant that's intended to complement the larger, full-scale Sweet Tomatoes restaurants in Palm Harbor and Largo.
"This is the third of its kind in the nation," said Dan Anderson, vice president of business development for Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., a San Diego-based chain with 120 Sweet Tomatoes and Souplantation restaurants in 15 states. The first Express restaurant opened in San Diego in January, and the second will soon open in Nevada.
The Clearwater diner — 2,160 square feet in a former Jamba Juice location — is expected to open in January.
"I'm from Pinellas County," Anderson said, "and I'm a fan of the area. When I saw a location open up at 60 and 19 (State Road 60 and U.S. 19) I knew we needed to be there. With a SuperTarget and a Costco, and residential all around, it's a great location."
Unlike the full-scale, buffet-style Sweet Tomatoes restaurants where guests select their own meal from salads, soups, pastas and baked goods, Express employees will build custom salads for customers as they make their selections.
The menu will consist of Sweet Tomatoes signature tossed salads, four types of greens, and over 30 toppings including edamame, feta cheese, candied walnuts, tofu and dried cranberries. Other add-ons include three types of grilled chicken, avocado, marinated grilled steak and shrimp.
Five soups as well as the perennial favorite, macaroni and cheese, will also be offered.
Fresh bakery selections include garlic focaccia, muffins and warm chocolate chip cookies.
The "fast casual" eatery will supply seating for 50 for those who wish to dine in. Others can order on the spot for take-out, or they can call or fax in orders ahead of time.
"It's more convenient for those who want to have a quick lunch or dinner and don't have the time for a sit-down meal," Anderson said.