Bloomin’ Vets Prep Mandola’s Italian Kitchen for Lift-Off

About a year and a half ago, Damian Mandola, co-founder of Carrabba’s Italian Grill, took a trip to Florida he won’t soon forget.

The intention was to handle business related to Carrabba’s, but the destination was Tampa Bay—home of industry veteran Paul Avery, a man Mandola admired. The relationship dates back more than a decade to when Avery was COO of Bloomin’ Brands (originally called OSI Restaurant Partners), the parent of Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s, and Outback Steakhouse.

Given the respect Mandola has for Avery’s business acumen, Trina Mandola, Mandola’s wife and business partner, saw an opportunity. She suggested Mandola present Avery with Mandola’s Italian Kitchen, an experiential fast-casual brand founded by the couple in 2006. The concept has since grown to four locations throughout Texas.

So Mandola and Director of Operations David Rosenberger traveled to the Sunshine State, bringing tales of Mandola’s Italian Kitchen, which offers daily prepared ingredients, homemade sauces, and upscale plates, flatware, and glassware.

“You don’t see that,” says Mandola, referencing the quality of his restaurant’s food and amenities. “Not many people can do that, and that’s what we bring to the table.”

After about a week, an intrigued Avery asked to visit a restaurant.

“He knows the business so well,” says Avery, who serves as CEO of World of Beer Bar & Kitchen. “His years of experience in building restaurants and bringing incredible flavors to life is an amazing talent that he has and that he’s been polishing for many, many years. So he has the utmost integrity and reputation in the industry. I’m just so honored that he asked me to look at his concept.”

As Avery took his tour, he was impressed with the commitment to quality and passion expressed by employees. The economic model appeared positive and the atmosphere proved lively, charming, and appealing.

Avery was convinced. Mandola’s Italian Kitchen needed to make its way to Florida.

“Fast-casual often connotes certain impressions to people, but this is a great atmosphere. It’s colorful, lively, the textures, colors, and finishes and furniture that [Trina’s] put in is really, really impressive,” says Avery, who notes Tampa, home to Bloomin’, has been an incubator for new restaurants for decades. “There’s nothing out there like this. There’s certainly nothing in Tampa like it. I’ve got a good sense of the industry, and I know that there’s nothing out there operating quite like Mandola’s.”

Fast forward to fall 2020, and the first Florida location is set to open in Riverview on October 26. Mandola and Avery will then direct their attention toward Tampa and other Florida markets, with the overall goal of opening four locations by 2022.

The 5,500-square-foot Riverview location will include indoor seating for about 120 customers and 1,000 square feet of outdoor patio space that can seat 50 guests—a feature that has become crucial for restaurants amid COVID concerns.

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Pet owners could talk to their vets about CBD, marijuana products under Michigan House-passed bill

Products promising to alleviate a beloved pet’s pain with CBD oil or THC have long been available to consumers – but Michigan veterinarians are currently operating in a legal gray area when talking about those products with pet owners.

Many Michigan lawmakers are hoping to change that. This week, a bill that would let veterinarians consult with pet owners about the use of marijuana or industrial hemp products for their animals passed the Michigan House unanimously.

Rep. Greg Markkanen, R-Houghton, sponsored the bill after learning from veterinarians in his district that while clients often have questions about how products containing CBD or THC could affect their pet’s health, state law doesn’t explicitly allow veterinarians to discuss the pros and cons of the products with pet owners.

Veterinarians also aren’t technically allowed to initiate discussions about whether a pet has been exposed to marijuana – which experts say can pose problems for treating animals, as THC can interact with other medications or cause medical issues in the event of an accidental overdose.

“We must make sure our veterinarians are able to have open and honest conversations with people about using products containing CBD oil and marijuana to care for their pets,” Markkanen said in a statement following the passage of his bill.

In January, the House Agriculture Committee heard from veterinarians that the law could help lead to better information and research about appropriate uses and side effects for animals, and also help pet owners get trusted medical advice on the products instead of having to research it on the internet.

“Without the correction, it holds our hands behind our backs in properly advocating what would be proper for their pet,” Dr. Kellie Holmstrom, a Marquette veterinarian who helped inspire the legislation, previously told lawmakers.

Michigan has allowed medicinal marijuana use since 2008, and hemp and recreational marijuana were legalized in 2018. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a hemp-derived extract that can be added to oils and lotions and is used as a natural remedy for anxiety, insomnia, depression and pain.

Sales of CBD pet products have increased rapidly throughout the country, increasing from $8 million in 2017 to $32 million in 2018, according to the Brightfield Group. The firm estimates the CBD pet market could reach $1.16 billion nationwide by 2022.

The legislation, House Bill 5085, is now before the Michigan Senate. It would need to pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law.

Related coverage:

Michigan veterinarians want authority to discuss CBD, marijuana products with pet owners

Q&A with a vet: Is CBD safe for pets?

The CBD pet market could reach $1.16 billion in the U.S. by 2022.

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