When he settled in Weeki Wachee after a 32-year Army career and an 18-month RV trip around America, Rod Scott saw something missing in Hernando County.
“We looked around and couldn’t find good wood-fired pizza,” he said. “There were no real places to enjoy a good beer and hang out. There were no bars, per se, except a couple of pool halls.”
That’s when he and his wife, Cat, looked into opening the first Florida franchise of Smokin’ Oak Wood-Fired Pizza and Taproom at 13180 Cortez Blvd. in Brooksville.
The restaurant, which has its grand opening May 3, will feature 20 beers, ciders, wines and more on tap that customers can pour themselves through a microchipped bracelet. It’s not Hernando County’s first self-serve taproom — another was open for a while before closing during the pandemic — but it’s still a fairly new concept for an area with only a few craft breweries.
“We found Brooksville to be growing so fast, and had a need for this,” said Scott, who studied culinary arts at the Art Institute of Tampa. “We’re hoping that this is kind of a place that people want to come visit and hang out for a while. And I think it will be.”
Five taps will feature “standard beers,” Scott said, such as Coors, Michelob and Bud Light. Another 10 will feature beers from around the country, with a heavy focus on Florida, including Brooksville’s Marker 48 Brewing. The final five taps will have wine, prosecco, margaritas and other drinks. The food features pizza with dough made in-house, cooked in a 900-degree oak-fired oven, along with sandwiches, salads and other dishes.
While it’s the first Smokin’ Oak taproom in Florida, it’s not the company’s only presence in Tampa Bay.
Smokin’ Oak co-founders Linda Black and Matt Mongoven were friends growing up in Rochester, Minn., where in 2009 Black opened a restaurant called Pi Wood-Fired Pizza. That served as the model for Smokin’ Oak, which launched in 2017. Rochester is still the chain’s home base. But Mongoven now lives in St. Petersburg, which serves as the legal home of Smokin’ Oak’s national franchise company, Fourth Avenue Restaurant Group.
Smokin’ Oak has locations in Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska, with plans to open new restaurants in Dallas, Austin and Canton, Ohio, among other cities.
“We have a few high-growth markets for us — Florida, Texas, Georgia — and we’re really excited to be opening up in Brooksville, especially so close to home,” said Mongoven, Fourth Avenue Restaurant Group’s CEO. “We just knew they’d be a good fit for the brand, and it was just a bonus that they happened to happened to live in the Tampa Bay area, which was a market I personally really wanted to grow in, because I live here.”
Scott’s franchise agreement is for one restaurant in the Brooksville area, but he’s already considering expansion opportunities around the state.
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“This is going to be the flagship store in Florida, and probably the most successful,” he said. “We might look at Panama City, St. Pete, Clearwater, Dunedin, the Tampa Bay area. I’m looking all over.”