Wake up: Orlando chain to open Keke's Breakfast Cafe in Tampa

Published Aug. 18, 2014

A new breakfast spot opening in Tampa is out to prove that the first meal of the day isn't just the most important, it's the best.

Keke's Breakfast Cafe, a popular Orlando chain, is expanding into the Tampa Bay market with a new restaurant scheduled to open in mid to late September in Carrollwood. It's taking over the former CiCi's Pizza space in the shopping center with Bed Bath & Beyond and Fresh Market, at N Dale Mabry Highway and Fletcher Avenue.

Keke's joins a growing number of daytime cafes seeking a bigger slice of the $50 billion-a-year breakfast market. Although most people still eat breakfast at home, the morning meal remains one of the biggest opportunities for the restaurant industry.

Its growth stacks up to a lot of pancakes. Between 2007 and 2011, breakfast accounted for 60 percent of restaurant traffic growth, according to Technomic, a food industry consulting firm. This year, breakfast sales — at both sit-down and fast-food restaurants — are expected to grow 3.5 percent, slightly more than lunch or dinner sales.

Keke's has 10 restaurants clustered mainly around Orlando, where the chain was founded in 2006 by brothers Kevin and Keith Mahen, hence the name Keke's. Five others are in the works, including the one in Carrollwood as well as ones in Lakeland and Boynton Beach.

The chain was featured in the August issue of Technomics' ConcepTrac report about emerging restaurants as a rising "a.m. eatery," along with Broken Yolk Cafe, Snooze and Toast Cafe, a North Carolina chain seeking to open locations in the Tampa Bay area.

Keke's co-owner Kevin Mahen said the company sold its first franchise in 2010 and has been looking to expand outside the Orlando market.

"We've found that the more stores we have, the better the sales are for all the stores," Mahen said. "We don't feel like we've met our saturation point yet."

Run by franchisees Jordan and Ashley Swan, the 150-seat cafe will open from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily and serve breakfast all day. The menu will offer about 20 varieties of waffles and pancakes, sandwiches, burgers, salads and wraps, most priced at about $10.

While the menu is similar to other daytime restaurants such as First Watch and IHOP, Keke's atmosphere is more contemporary and upscale. Meals are served on square, china plates — not plastic — and the tabletops are granite. Food is prepared fresh to order. No alcohol is served.

"It's like your hometown diner grew up and went to the city," goes the cafe's mantra.

Customers on Yelp have given it high praise, calling the blueberry-stuffed French toast divine and the banana caramel pancakes worth every calorie. Just about the only complaint is that it can be tough to get a table right away, especially on weekends.

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Many locals know the key to sweetening up even the most sour co-worker is a slice of something from Mike's Pies. Now the country knows it, too.

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The key lime pie from Tampa-based Mike's Pies has been named Florida's top goodie to share at work by Bloomberg Businessweek, which compiled the state-by-state list.

Founded by Mike Martin more than 21 years ago, Mike's Pies are served in 40 states and five countries, and are sold in a few stores such as Fresh Market and Land & Sea Market. It has won a bunch of awards, including several for its famed key lime.

As school kids traipse back to school this week in their new clothes and backpacks, consider this: Total back-to-school and college spending was expected to hit $75 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That's more than all the spending combined for Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter and Halloween. Only Christmas beat it at $602 billion.

The average family will spend $670 on their children in grades K-12, up 5 percent from last year. That's a lot of pencils, paper, sneakers and book bags.

Contact Susan Thurston at or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston.