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First look at Doc B's Fresh Kitchen, coming to International Plaza in Tampa

Craig Bernstein, the founder of Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen, operates two restaurants in Chicago. Besides his new Tampa location on International Plaza’s Bay Street, which will open in November, he plans to open a Fort Lauderdale location next year.
Published Sep. 15, 2015

TAMPA — Craig Bernstein figured it out at age 10. He sat courtside at a Chicago Bulls game in family friend Allen Bernstein's (no relation) seats. Craig wanted to know how Mr. Bernstein came by that particular bit of real estate. His dad said, "Remember that restaurant we dined in called Morton's? He owns that." Come career day, Craig was a man with a plan: I'm going to be a restaurateur.

It took a while, but in September 2013 he opened his first Doc B's Fresh Kitchen in Chicago. A second soon followed. The first week of November, he opens his third outpost in the Gallery Eclectic Bistro space on International Plaza's Bay Street. A Fort Lauderdale location will open next year.

Following in the footsteps of Chicago's Gold Coast and River North neighborhood locations, Tampa's Doc B's is under construction and, with a 4,200-square-foot interior plus a 700-square-foot patio, will be the largest Doc B's Fresh Kitchen to date.

At an exclusive tour for the Times on Monday morning, Bernstein, 32, explained the concept.

"The business is named after my dad. He passed away five years ago and was an OB/GYN — Doc B. As my father always said, 'Everything in moderation.' "

It's healthy food, he explains, but with a something-for-everyone approach, not unlike the nearby Cheesecake Factory: There's a fried Nashville-style hot chicken, but also a more healthful roasted chicken with a miso demiglace; regular cole slaw, but also kale slaw.

"We want to have a yin-yang balance in the concept," Bernstein said. "The challenge is doing it all well."

Bernstein aims to hire 45 local employees, with three kitchen managers and three front-of-the-house managers already hired, some from Chicago and some from Tampa Bay. Beverage director Dustin Durrenberger will function as opening store general manager, overseeing a bar program that includes all-local craft beers (with a couple of Chicago offerings, as well), a by-the-glass wine program with 24 options and a range of signature cocktails.

Why the Florida expansion? Bernstein says that the state's demographics fit with his concept and that he thinks the Tampa Bay area has "elongated day parts," meaning diners don't limit themselves to a strict lunch hour and dinner time.

Bernstein says that the design of each location has been different and that his work with DMAC Architecture in Chicago is a "collaborative effort," this outpost with white Carrera marble walls, blue tile floors and lots of dark walnut.

On Monday, it was all sawdust and exposed beams, but come November the open kitchen will be sending out "Wok Out" build-your-own stir fries set atop quinoa, brown rice or lo mein brought in from San Francisco.

For now, Bernstein is still waiting on those courtside Bulls seats.

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

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