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A taste of the tropics

Pollo Tropical brings its signature grilled chicken, Latin, Cuban and Caribbean flavors to Pinellas Park.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published October 4, 2006

PINELLAS PARK - Pollo Tropical, which boasts about the "spa treatment" its chickens receive before they're grilled, is preparing to open a location in Pinellas Park, its first restaurant in western Florida.

The decision to open a restaurant at the Shoppes at Park Place, the former ParkSide mall, was a natural, said Kampi Chaleunsouk of Impact Miami Public Relations, the chain's spokeswoman.

Market studies have shown that many in the Tampa Bay area know the restaurant from its Miami origins or its Orlando store and are eager to have a nearby Pollo Tropical.

The chain is simply "following its customers," she said.

The grand opening is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 20 and will feature a steel drum band and local musicians, as well as the cooking of Mike Garcia, the chain's executive chef who created nine of the menu items.

Garcia, a native of Cuba, learned to cook by helping his mom when he was a boy. That background familiarized him with the Latin, Cuban and Caribbean flavors that have become hallmarks of the Pollo Tropical chain.

Diners who want to get an early taste of the offerings might be able to do so if they're alert. Pollo Tropical plans a "soft opening" sometime before the 20th, but Chaleunsouk said it's unclear when that might be. It could be as early as next week or just a day or two before the restaurant opens, she said.

"Those are moving targets for us," Chaleunsouk said.

Pollo Tropical opened in 1988 in Miami and now has more than 70 stores, all but one in Florida. That one restaurant is in North Bergen, N.J. The chain also has several franchises in Puerto Rico, Ecuador and on the Florida State and Florida International university campuses. It has about 2,200 employees.

The chain is known mostly for its chicken, which is free-range and contains no hormones and no preservatives. All food is prepared fresh daily.

"We're the healthy alternative to fast food," said Chaleunsouk.

Before it's cooked, the chicken is marinaded for 24 hours as a kind of "spa treatment" and then grilled. Twenty spices are involved, Chaleunsouk said.

Other menu items include pork and ribs, black beans, rice, yucca, corn, and desserts of key lime pie, tres leches and flan, a kind of caramel custard.

Prices start around $3.19 for a value meal that includes one-fourth of a chicken, white rice and black beans.

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