PORT RICHEY — Sweet Tomatoes, the restaurant chain known for its 45-foot salad bar, will open March 7 in the old Outback Steakhouse at U.S. 19 and Regency Park Boulevard.
What's even sweeter is that they're hiring.
The San Diego-based chain is looking to hire 63 employees, company spokeswoman Tracy Marks said.
"The closest Sweet Tomatoes is about an hour away, so we'll be looking to hire all new people," she said Thursday.
The restaurant has opened a hiring office at 10152 U.S. 19 N to take applications and conduct interviews. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
This is the first Sweet Tomatoes for Pasco. It has 20 locations in Florida, including Brandon, Tampa, Palm Harbor and Largo.
The announcement is welcome news in a county burdened with an unemployment rate of 13 percent. It also adds some new life to this section of the U.S. 19 corridor, where many businesses have suffered during the recent poor economy.
Outback closed in May 2009, and other businesses followed. Linens 'N Things and Circuit City left when their companies went out of business nationwide. Also pulling up stakes were Gap Outlet and Old Navy.
In January 2010, Target closed its doors after 18 years on the strip, leaving another gaping hole in the Piers shopping center near Gulf View Square mall. It was one of only four Targets in the country to close. Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse, a favorite of those in search of a moderately priced steak dinner, also went out of business.
But the area has enjoyed a bit of a revival. Aldi opened a store in September, and the original owner of Sam Seltzer reopened the restaurant under his own name, Harold.
The Sweet Tomatoes chain began in 1983, when two partners of Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. acquired two Souplantation restaurants in California. The company grew steadily through the 1980s and began to expand outside its core Southern California market. It adopted the Sweet Tomatoes name for restaurants outside California.
The first Sweet Tomatoes restaurant opened in Palm Harbor in January 1990. The company went public in 1995 and expanded rapidly from 1998 to 2001, adding 44 stores in 10 states.
In 2004, Garden Fresh returned to being a private company.
"Steady growth is planned through the foreseeable future," according to its website.
The San Diego-based restaurant chain owns 111 restaurants in 15 states and offers fresh produce and salads, made-from-scratch soups, hot tossed pastas, freshly baked breads and muffins, fresh fruit, frozen yogurt and more.