On the Fly, a new food hall from the Ciccio Restaurant Group, is opening next month in St. Petersburg.
Sweet Soul and Taco Dirty will join two other quick-service concepts from the local restaurant group, including Fresh Kitchen, the health-focused grab-and-go bowl spot, and Better Byrd, the popular gluten-free chicken concept, both which have existed for several years at the Fourth Street North location.
The new buildout at 4447 Fourth St. N. leaves the Fresh Kitchen space as is, but next door — what was formerly just Better Byrd — is now home to that restaurant plus the veggie-forward Mexican spot Taco Dirty and smoothie and acai bowl joint Sweet Soul. Though Taco Dirty will not open until the hall’s official launch in mid-November, Sweet Soul is now open.
Part of the impetus for the new hall was the noticeable uptick in takeout and delivery business caused by the coronavirus pandemic, said Ciccio Restaurant Group founder James Lanza.
“We’ve always done a lot of takeout and delivery, but COVID definitely expedited (it),” Lanza said.
Financial predictions for many restaurants were dire at the onset of the pandemic, but Lanza said while the restaurant group’s dine-in business took a small hit, the takeout orders boomed. Restaurants in Tampa Bay have been allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity since Sept. 25, and business is steadily growing at most restaurants. But Lanza said there still seems to be a preference with many diners to either take their orders to-go, eat outside or order delivery from the safety and comfort of their homes.
Sales at most of the group’s fast-casual concepts like Fresh Kitchen, Taco Dirty and Better Byrd were up compared to some of their restaurants better known for dine-in business like Ciccio Cali and Green Lemon.
“Our quick service restaurants, revenue wise, were better, year-on-year,” Lanza said.
Lanza said they chose to renovate the the Better Byrd space when they noticed that roughly 60 percent of their business came from takeout. During a gut renovation they took out some of the seating space and added another kitchen. Now, guests can order from one of three concepts at the hall and there are separate lines for online orders from third-party delivery services like Uber Eats and DoorDash.
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The space still has a good amount of seating, too: enough for about 50 people inside and another 50 outside. While Fresh Kitchen remains a separate restaurant, the adjoining buildings and new outdoor patio space are available to all guests at any of the four eateries.
The company has also been running a so-called ghost kitchen out of Better Byrd called Speedos Burritos, and will continue to do so. Speedos Burritos will only be available through online orders, not in-person.
When ordering online, guests can order from either Taco Dirty, Better Byrd, Sweet Soul or Speedos Burritos on the same ticket. Ordering online from Fresh Kitchen will still be separate.
“It’s really like having a virtual food court in your home,” Lanza said.