Heart Warming Hospitality, Heart Healthy Food
By Mary Lou Janson
Local Favorite – Zoes Kitchen
Home cooking served with a side of Southern hospitality helped Zoes Kitchen become a local favorite when the restaurant founded by the Cassimus family first opened in downtown Birmingham, AL in 1995.
Mom-and-pop owners Zoe and Marcus whipped up made-from-scratch meals featuring family recipes to create a menu pairing traditional Southern specialties with signature dishes from Mediterranean countries. Simple, tasty, fresh food prepared and presented in a warm, welcoming environment made their restaurant a hometown hit.
Blending those diverse cuisines enabled diners to consider delicious and nutritious options. Their choices ranged from chicken salad to chicken kabobs, a grilled turkey sandwich to a Greek salad and a fruit plate to Mediterranean baked feta.
The concept quickly caught on and began to spread throughout the South and, eventually, across the country. The story continues to unfold as on-going growth and expansion finally introduced this Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant to the Tampa Bay area in May.
Zoes Kitchen Location
From its foothold in South Tampa’s SoHo neighborhood, Zoes Kitchen occupies a 2,800-square-foot corner site on the ground level of The Morrison. The newly constructed, mixed-use development includes restaurants, a fitness studio, offices and residences overlooking the busy intersection of South Howard and West Morrison avenues.
Bold colors, sleek wood surfaces, lots of natural light and signage that literally spells out the restaurant’s commitment to genuine hospitality and life-enhancing foods highlight the interior of the new restaurant that serves lunch and dinner daily.
Now boasting more than 200 locations in 20 states, the menu at Zoes Kitchen has evolved over the years, according to John Powell, general manager of the Tampa location. Some of the menu main stays that speak to this restaurant’s Southern roots are chicken salad and pimento cheese which can still be traced back to the original owners’ recipes.
In an effort to create a something-for-everyone selection of food,options offered include gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan dishes as well as selections made with fresh vegetables and herbs, whole grains and lean proteins.
And to ensure the wholesome ingredients and authentic flavors featured are never compromised, everything is prepared by hand without the use of fryers or microwaves.
Zoes Kitchen Means “Life”
The word Zoe translates to “life” in Greek, which makes this the perfect place for anyone enjoying an active, healthy lifestyle that demands to be fueled by good-for-you foods. Think hummus, tabouli, Mediterranean lentil soup and quinoa salad. But guests can also enjoy a sliced steak sandwich served on sourdough bread or an Italian flatbread layered with grilled ham.
Don’t overlook the delicious desserts that, if not guilt-free, include a dairy-free choice. Yaya’s hand-made chocolate cake is indeed made from scratch and the zesty lemon cookies are made with olive oil,not butter.
“This is a great place for someone who loves a healthy lifestyle. In SoHo you see a lot of people running, walking and biking by this location. There is a lot of good energy here and this restaurant is a great fit,” said Powell.
A covered patio provides guests with a street level view of the vibrant neighborhood as well as a pet-friendly place to dine.
Art Work Found At Zoes Kitchen
Displayed throughout the Tampa location, as well as other Zoes Kitchen locations, is original artwork created by local grade school through college students. The restaurant supplies the paints and canvases and the students provide the creativity. Everything exhibited is for sale and the funds generated from those sales, along with additional monies raised during other fundraising events at the restaurant, are donated to the participating school or student organization.
What began with a handful of locations in Alabama and Tennessee, really flourished when the founders’ son, John Cassimus,turned his entrepreneurial eye toward the business and guided its growth for several years. Today Zoës Kitchen is a publicly traded company headquartered in Plano, TX and remains committed to putting a personal stamp on its customer service.
“We have a people-first mentality,” said Powell, who notes that the food is served on real – not paper or styrofoam – dishes, the utensilsare silverware, not plastic, and servers will deliver orders table-sideas well as whisk away empty plates. “We want to learn the names of our guests. We want our warm hospitality to get them in the door and bring them back. We want to offer a full service experience.”
Zoës Kitchen Orzo Tabouli Salad Ingredients:
Fresh mint – finely chopped
Fresh parsley – finely chopped
Diced tomatoes – drained
Lemon vinaigrette (or any favorite vinaigrette)
Salt to taste
Directions: In large mixing bowl add the vinaigrette, mint, parsley, and salt.Mix well. Add in orzo pasta, diced tomatoes and diced cucumbers.Toss together to completely coat. Top each serving with crumbled feta cheese.
Zoës Kitchen | 942 S. Howard Ave., Tampa | 813-906-2090 | www.zoeskitchen.com