© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2002
ZEPHYRHILLS -- The city's efforts to create a more welcoming and profitable downtown have lured the district's first locally owned, full-service restaurant in years.
Joseph Abed, owner of Manolo's Italiano Ristorante, said he picked the downtown location because he was impressed with how the city promotes businesses and with the atmosphere on Fifth Avenue.
"No new plaza could match the authenticity of a building that started a city," said Abed, 28.
Manolo's, which also has a restaurant in Dade City, opened for lunch and dinner on Wednesday despite executive chef Brian Cherry's declaration that, "I would never go to a restaurant on opening day."
Cherry said the day was "a little rocky", but business was good. The staff of 22 worked out many of the kinks, and by Thursday, Cherry had rearranged the kitchen to make things run more smoothly.
The restaurant, at 38445 Fifth Ave., took over the space of an old Army/Navy surplus store. Cherry and Abed refurbished the interior, installed the kitchen and built the bar in the dining room.
Abed hopes to expand his customer base from the people who live in Zephyrhills and would drive to Dade City for his pizza and calzones.
"This was always in my plan," Abed said about opening another restaurant. He said if all goes well, he'll open more restaurants. He's considering Bushnell, Lakeland or Plant City.
Zephyrhills was designated a new urbanized area in the 2000 census, and city officials have been trying to get local businesses to tap into that growth.
Building official Bill Burgess said he thinks Manolo's will have a positive impact on the city. The study the city commissioned this year from the University of South Florida on revitalizing downtown recommended attracting businesses such as Manolo's, he said.
"We're hoping some of the vacant areas downtown will follow suit," Burgess said.