Yes, the poké bowl phenomenon is in full swing in the Tampa Bay area and New Tampa’s newest entry into the market is a small Tampa Bay area-based chain that has taken our area by storm.
Mahana Fresh, located in the plaza next to Glory Days Grill on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. just north of the I-75 exit (one exit south of S.R. 56), had been busy and its popularity was growing from the day that it opened until that day in March when restaurants across the state were shut down to dine-in service across Florida.
Even so, local franchisee Ryan Mortti, who has been part of the restaurant scene in New Tampa and Wesley Chapel for a dozen years, even though he’s only 26 (do the math), says that while business at Mahana Fresh definitely tailed off when all restaurants were only allowed to do takeout and delivery for eight weeks, “We were actually positioned pretty well to stay open and retain our staff during that time.”
Ryan, who started working at the McDonald’s on BBD in front of the Publix-anchored New Tampa Center shopping plaza at age 14 (he later became the general manager at both that location and at the busiest of all local McDonald’s on S.R. 56, in front of the Tampa Premium Outlets), says that he had been open just long enough for people to understand that Mahana Fresh’s system already had minimal client contact, “so we also retained a lot of our customers during the shutdown.”
How It Works…
At Mahana Fresh, which displays all of its offerings in large bowls and tubs behind a glass counter (photo above), you start by choosing a bowl size (Big Mahana, Mahana or Lil Mahana) and your base — basmati rice blend, cauliflower rice, coconut rice, “Forbidden” rice (we can’t give away why it’s called that), spinach salad, the popular sweet potato noodles and my favorite, the kale crunch salad. “People love the sweet potato noodles,” Mortti says, “but you can even combine bases. I never have the exact same bowl twice.”
I really love the veggies at Mahana Fresh, especially the garlicky cilantro green beans, sesame ginger broccoli and the honey sriracha Brussels sprouts, although Jannah’s favorites are the cubed, roasted sweet potatoes and Ryan says the #1 seller is probably the Buffalo-style cauliflower.
And, the available proteins you can choose from (or combine) include my favorite grilled steak and spicy ahi tuna (which both set you back $1.50 extra for each per bowl, but they’re worth it), roasted tofu and three kinds of chicken — BBQ, semi-spicy Key West and Jannah’s favorite teriyaki.
It’s hard for us to not get multiple sauces (we always order them on the side), because they’re all great. My favorite is probably the semi-spicy citrus ginger, while Jannah’s is probably the cilantro vinaigrette. I also love the creamy wasabi.
Then, there also are add-ons, which do come with a nominal extra charge — from roasted almonds and feta or parmesan cheese for 50 cents per bowl extra each or avocado and my favorite Mediterranean-style tomatoes for $1.50 per item each. The tomatoes are marinated in a Greek- or Italian-style dressing and add a burst of flavor to an already tasty bowl.
And, even though some items cost extra, the starting prices for the three bowl sizes are only $6.99, $8.29 or $9.99 and quite honestly, with all you get, even the Lil Mahana is a legitimate meal, especially with any of the add-ons.
So, how did Mortti go from being a McDonald’s manager to the owner of a poké bowl place?
“McDonald’s was great for and to me,” he says, “and, as I was accumulating enough money to consider opening my own place, I talked to a friend of mine who had just purchased the right to open a Mahana Fresh franchise in Brandon and this location actually opened before his did.”
He adds that, “I also felt that more and more people are trying to eat healthier these days and once I tried the original Mahana Fresh (located in Bradenton), I knew this was the right concept at the right time.”
Mortti also notes that the fact he also is a general contractor (who owns his own Elite Construction Services) who was allowed by Mahana Fresh’s corporate entity to build out his own space was another reason he took the shot with the new concept.
“I’ve seen what does and doesn’t work at other restaurants and knew how I wanted to build out the kitchen and the interior space. I’ve really been happy with the way everything turned out, too.”
Pour Your Own Beer?
Yes, pour your own beer.
“I really love the way we sell beer here,” Mortii says.
The way it works is that if you want to enjoy any of the up to eight beers on tap (from Mich Ultra to Shocktop to microbrews like Brew Bus “You’re My Boy Blue” and Coppertail Free Dive) when you pay for your meal, you are given a card that you then use at Mahana Fresh’s “Pour Your Own” station, put your card and glass in the proper spot and you’ve got a great compliment to any delicious bowl.
Speaking of delicious, the gluten-free chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies at Mahana Fresh are excellent; although I’ve yet to try the zucchini brownie.
Mahana Fresh New Tampa is located at 17512 Doña Michelle Dr.. It is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. every day. The phone number is (727) 238-9967. For more information, visit MahanaFresh.com and search for the New Tampa location. You also can use the code “mahana20” to receive 20% off your online order.