The Tampa Bay region has built a solid reputation as a fertile training ground for chain restaurants, and some of the most widely known restaurants got their start here. From Bloomin’ Onions and Bang Bang Shrimp to those ubiquitous orange shorts, these restaurant chains have built an empire based on their brands.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, with the proximity to nearby beaches and Florida’s seafaring culture, that a restaurant sporting fresh seafood dishes and creative cocktails would be such a hit. But when Chris Parker and Tim Curci founded Bonefish Grill in January 2000 in St. Petersburg, they tapped into the culinary zeitgeist big time. Less than a year later, Bloomin’ Brands acquired the restaurant and the chain has grown to include close to 200 locations across the country. The original location relocated to a different St. Petersburg address a few years back, and just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Though the brand has come up against a significant amount of competition from the local independent dining scene over the years, there’s no arguing the staying power of the sweet, spicy and crispy Bang Bang Shrimp, a dish that has become synonymous with the brand.
5062 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 521-3434; bonefishgrill.com
The original location of this “delightfully tacky, yet unrefined” chicken wing house opened on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater in 1983. Though the flagship is still in the same building, it underwent a major renovation in 2012 and now features a 7,000-square-foot space with dozens of flat-screen televisions throughout. Over the years, the wing- and burger-centric menu has expanded to include salads, seafood and a full liquor bar. Known as much for the hot wings as for the servers clad in the brand’s signature orange running shorts and low-cut tank tops, the concept inspired countless other “breastaurants” and now includes close to 500 locations in 44 states and 27 countries.
2800 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater; (727) 797-4008; originalhooters.com
One of Bloomin’ Brands’ anchor restaurant chains, the first Outback Steakhouse opened in March 1988. The South Tampa flagship was founded by Chris Sullivan, Bob Basham, Tim Gannon and Trudy Cooper, and the Australian-inspired steakhouse brand has expanded to include 726 locations across the country and more than 230 international addresses in 20 countries. Though the restaurant’s quality steaks and generous portions have garnered the brand a solid following with carnivores worldwide, it’s the golden and crispy-fried Bloomin’ Onion that has become the spot’s calling card.
3403 Henderson Blvd., Tampa; (813) 875-4329; outback.com
One of the youngest local chains on this list, the flagship hub for the fast-casual chicken joint opened across the street from Tampa’s Plant High School in 2011. Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham and MVP Holdings CEO Nick Reader launched the concept after taking a road trip to North Carolina. The chain’s tagline — People Dedicated to Quality — is a nod to their overarching theme of made-to-order meals using fresh, quality ingredients. Maybe it’s a stretch to call fried chicken healthy, but according to the restaurant, their birds are fresh (“never frozen”) and all of the sauces, dips and dressings are made in-house daily. The brand has quickly grown and now includes multiple locations across the state as well as in Alabama and North Carolina.
2207 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 254-7373; eatpdq.com