Home is where the heart is.
By JOE PEDERSEN
Daily Sun Staff Writer
And for 10 years, Brandy Bennett’s heart has been with serving her TooJay’s Gourmet Deli regulars at Spanish Springs Town Square.
In September, the deli hopes to hire 80 employees with a similar passion for its new Brownwood Paddock Square location.
“My co-workers and our guests have become like family,” Bennett said. “Going to work feels more like going home every day.”
Friendly Villagers have led to a 114 percent increase in restaurant jobs over the past seven years in The Villages Metropolitan Statistical Area, Census data showed.
TooJay’s hopes to continue that trend.
The Spanish Springs location has about 40 employees with positions such as servers, chefs, hostesses, cashiers, washers and others.
In the winter season, TooJay’s plans on more than doubling that number to about 90 employees.
Villages restaurants are a huge job generator, and that’s because of Villagers, said Mackie McCabe, director of The Villages Hospitality Department.
“Our demographic probably eats out more than any other demographic in the United States,” he said. “It’s the best demographic you can have in the food service, other than the 18- to 28-year-old bracket. They’re the two drivers in the restaurant business.”
Restaurant franchises, on average, perform 20 percent to 25 percent better in The Villages than they do elsewhere, McCabe said.
“Our market truly utilizes restaurants for social gathering,” he said. “They have good spendable income. As long as the service is good and the food is of a good value, restaurants here should see a good return.”
TooJay’s is proof of that.
Both the Spanish Springs and Lake Sumter Landing locations have done so well that TooJay’s plans on opening a third store at Brownwood Paddock Square, said Holly Hegg, general manager.
The new location should open in September, and will be the company’s second-largest store to date, with more than 5,000 square feet and more than 200 seats, she said.
An army of 80 new employees is gathering in order to serve the guests that are sure to fill the room.
“Villagers are excited and a lot of people are curious about what new features we’ll have,” Hegg said.
Other Villages restaurants are adding to the growth of restaurant jobs, too.
In June, World of Beer hired 60 employees for its new store in Spanish Springs.
Honest John’s Whiskey and Provisions has hired 66 employees since its opening earlier this summer in Lake Sumter Landing.
These numbers bullishly correlate with the 30,000 restaurant-job increase seen in June across the nation, Census data showed.
But while the numbers are impressive, what matters is the service.
Bennett knows exactly what to get when Gwen and Mike Hertz, of Stonecrest, walk into the TooJay’s Spanish Spring location.
Two glasses of iced tea, with extra lemon, are delivered to the table shortly after the Hertzes sit down.
Before going on a diet, the Hertzes frequented TooJay’s seven days a week.
Now they make sure to stop in about once every two weeks to see how their favorite servers are doing, Gwen said.
“We talk about what’s going on in their lives and just chit chat,” she said. “I feel at ease in TooJay’s, like a second home.”