Peachland Promenade, the Port Charlotte mall spanning Peachland Boulevard, Veterans Boulevard and Kings Highway, has erupted in new restaurants over the last year — beginning with Golden China and Fin Sushi & Grill.
The outbuilding housing Tropical Smoothie Café has kept us guessing since summertime, but fast-casual 3 Pepper Burrito opened there last week. And while no local restaurateur is owning up to the mysterious “Pizza & Pasta,” its real identity remains secret.
At the opposite end of Veterans Boulevard, the departure of Harbor Seafood, Meats & More cleared a large restaurant space over a year ago. It, too, has been filled.
3 Pepper Burrito launches 6th little pepper
Lifelong friends Justin O’Brien, 33, and Tim Goff, 34, are, you might say, on a roll as burrito barons.
After starting out in real estate, they cut their restaurant teeth 12 years ago as Pita Pit franchisees, expanding to eight stores before selling them.
Once they learned what they needed, the pair proceeded to do what they’d always wanted: start their own brand and expand it.
In 2014 they opened their first 3 Pepper Burrito in the town where they grew up — Cape Coral — gathered their strength for two years, then exploded in growth.
“After two years perfecting our kitchen and recipe book, we were ready to open second, third and fourth locations in Fort Myers,” said O’Brien.
At this point, they have a fifth location in Lehigh Acres, with the sixth that opened in Port Charlotte last week and plan four more stores in Sarasota, Naples, Estero and Fort Myers. Next up: Orlando and Tampa.
Within five years, the partners will have doubled their number of stores. They’ve already bought a downtown Fort Myers office building as headquarters for future franchising throughout Florida.
Why Mexican food?
“We both, honestly, just love it,” said O’Brien. “We’ve been friends since third grade and we’ve eaten a lot of burritos.”
But they wanted to differentiate theirs from assembly-line competitors Moe’s Southwest Grill, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Tijuana Flats.
They opted for the super-fresh and began by pressing tortillas out of 4-ounce scratch-made dough balls, in 20 to 30 seconds, in front of the customer.
That’s why they call it a “burrito” company.
Another one-of-a-kind feature is a spice bar where customers can season their own chips with sprinkled-on dry rubs including lime, chipotle barbecue, cinnamon and Sriracha.
Their unique signature salsas include chunky avocado ranch, chipotle ranch, diablo’s breath made with scorching-hot habañero and ghost peppers, and cilantro-lime vinaigrette.
Each location is a compact 1,300 to 1,600 square feet, with about 40 seats and 15 employees. By the end of the year, O’Brien estimates they’ll have 200 employees overall.
3 Pepper Burrito, 24065 Peachland Blvd, Unit 105, is open daily 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and delivers through Bite Squad.
Zoe’s Sweet Kitchen, more than just sweets
Despite stints spent teaching, she can hardly remember when she wasn’t also decorating work-of-art cakes.
Cakes by Zoe has been part of Zoe Shasteen‘s life since she was in 10th grade. And now they’re a big part of her new café — Zoe’s Sweet Kitchen — which opened recently on El Jobean Road in the former Harbor Seafood, Meats & More.
Her new place has a menu spanning breakfast, snacks, chopped salads, quiche of the day, soup of the day, burgers, deli sandwiches and grilled sandwiches.
After high school, Shasteen studied culinary arts at New Hampshire Vocational Technical (now White Mountains Community) College, in remote Berlin, New Hampshire. She soon began baking for the Major Leonard Keep, an iconic restaurant in southwestern New Hampshire, near where she’d grown up.
After she brought her family to Florida to visit her retired parents 21 years ago, one thing led to another and the Florida lifestyle became theirs.
At a time when customers would have known her as Zoe Bunnens, she opened a little place in Punta Gorda called Summer Mood Café & Gallery, across from The Celtic Ray.
Hurricane Charley brought that particular summer mood to an end, gutting the building.
“After struggling with the insurance company for months,” said Shasteen, “I decided to go back to school for teaching. That’s basically what I’d done for my dad’s company, so it made sense.”
For the last 10 years, she’s taught math at Charlotte High and Murdock Middle School, as well as in Lee County.
But the crazy world of baking and restaurant ownership was always in her blood.
She worked in Deep Creek Golf Club’s kitchen for the last four years, where she created, among other things, a 4-foot-long, 18-inch-wide green-and-brown-frosted fairway for one Pro Am.
At Zoe’s Sweet Kitchen, she’ll share her U.S. Marine son’s favorite breakfast — The 96, named after the hours in a four-day weekend. She’s also preparing whimsical snacks, including Buffalo Chicken-stuffed Pretzel Bites with a side of bleu, and sandwiches like The Bloody Mary — cheddar cheese, bacon, tomato and pickle on Bloody Mary-dipped bread, grilled and garnished with olives.
There’s a window so you can watch her bake, open-kitchen style, and a bar with flat screens.
But it’s the sweets case — full of cupcakes, muffins, brownies, cheesecake and other daily delights — that really draws the eye and seduces customers with that one last cupcake, brownie or slice of pie. To go, if you like.
Zoe’s Sweet Kitchen ($), 941-743-9637, 1101 El Jobean Road, is open, for now, Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hours will expand after they get their wine and beer license.
Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage.