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Applebee's will be first in county

It could be the most anticipated arrival in years.

Plans to open the county's first Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar are progressing, even though construction hasn't begun. That's expected to change this week, when crews begin work on the 5,000-square foot restaurant on U.S. 19 at Lakewood Plaza.

"We're really excited about being up in that area," said London Bolton of Casual Restaurant Concepts, Applebee's Tampa Bay franchisee. "We like to go into areas where they have a real neighborhood feel."

Bolton said the company is still uncertain when the restaurant will open, mostly because the building will be a newer model than other Applebee's the company has built in Tampa Bay.

"We're looking to train around the beginning of July," Bolton said. The company hopes the restaurant will be open by mid-July. It will employ around 80 people and will begin hiring about one month before the restaurant opens.

The restaurant is designed in an open style, with the bar in the middle of the room, Bolton said. It will seat around 200 patrons.

Applebee's is a national family-style restaurant based in Overland Park, Kan. It features grilled fare, salads, pastas and other standards. Casual Restaurant Concepts owns 12 locations in the Tampa Bay area, from Spring Hill south to Manatee County. The company generally opens three to four new locations a year, Bolton said.

Although Applebee's won't open until July, Spring Hill's second Dairy Queen is scheduled to open about a month earlier.

The new Dairy Queen will be next to Putt N' Play on U.S. 19 about 1 mile north of County Line road. Construction has begun on the building, and owner Doug Kellin says that's not all that's going up there.

Plans to build an arcade next to the Dairy Queen were submitted to the county last week. Kellin says that he hopes to have the arcade building open around the same time as the Dairy Queen.

"It'll go up real quick," Kellin said.

The new 3,000-square-foot arcade will house about 30 games, including both video games and ticket-redemption games such as Skee-ball. He plans to build three batting cages nearby, which will offer five different pitching speeds.

Kellin says there will be enough space for a party room, which will allow several different birthday parties to go on at once. He's hoping to put together packages that will let parents bring in kids for birthday parties that will include both the arcade games and a Dairy Queen ice cream cake.

"We think we can coordinate with them on the birthday cakes," said Kellin, who says the new complex will be like Chuck E. Cheese without the pizza.

He hopes the Dairy Queen-arcade combination will make his miniature golf course complex the place to go for entertainment in Spring Hill.

"We're creating a safe, clean, fun place for families to hang out," said Kellin, who hopes to cater to the family and preteen market. "We're thinking about renaming the whole place the Fun Zone."

Kellin said he expects everything to be up and running by late June or early July. He's already taking job applications for the new Dairy Queen.

A little up the street from Putt N' Play, employees of Pit Boss Bar-B-Que & Pub are spending the week getting ready for their grand opening Friday at their new location next to the Winn-Dixie Marketplace.

"It'll be a better location," said Pamela Diulio, who has waited tables at Pit Boss for eight years. "It will be something closer up to the road instead of back in the corner where we are now."

For the past 10 years, Pit Boss has been tucked away in a large space at Forest Oaks Plaza. The new location will be smaller but more visible from U.S. 19. Pit Boss will be the first tenant in the expanded shopping center next to Winn-Dixie.

Last year, rival Sonny's Barbeque opened its doors _ less than a mile from Forest Oaks Plaza. While Pit Boss felt a drop in business at first, it wasn't anything permanent, according to Diulio.

"Everybody did try it out at first. We felt it. I won't say we didn't," Diulio said. As time went on, however, customers came back, she said. "I don't think it made a dent in our business."

Pit Boss' owners and employees hope their clientele will stay with them through their next big challenge _ the move.

"We have a lot of regulars who say they'll come down to see us," Diulio said.