Bolay Fresh Bold Kitchen is coming to South Tampa — with a twist.
The gluten-free and health-focused restaurant franchise opened its first ever drive-thru location Thursday. The new location in Tampa is a special place for founder and CEO Chris Gannon, as its mere blocks from the original Outback Steakhouse, which his father Tim Gannon co-founded.
The Tampa Bolay at 402 S. Dale Mabry Highway will be the chain’s 24th restaurant and its third in the region after Brandon and St. Petersburg. Bolay is based in South Florida and has customizable “Bols” that guests can build using proteins, grains, vegetables and marinade.
In this conversation, Chris Gannon speaks with the Tampa Bay Times about why the chain is venturing into drive-thrus and why he’s excited to finally debut Bolay in his hometown. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why is Bolay expanding to drive-thru service?
Drive-thru offers a lot of wonderful things and allows us to be what our guests want. They want quick, convenient and healthy foods. And sometimes that means not getting out of your car.
It’s very difficult especially for a parent with a couple of little ones strapped into the car seat to stop, get out of the car and take food out. So here, we allow you to just, boom, pull up to the window and get your amazing healthy, fresh flavors on the go.
And then we chose South Tampa, because that’s where I grew up. That’s where my high school alma mater, Berkeley Prep, is. It’s also the amazing town where my father launched his restaurant called Outback Steakhouse right down the street. So there’s a lot of ties back to our community roots that we love and that community is just exploding. There will be some fun challenges in our early days of getting the drive-thru dialed in. But we have a lot of experience and are very excited to meet our guests where they need and where they want us.
Is there anything different about the drive-thru process for Bolay’s buildable “bol” system?
You’re still giving an order and then someone is preparing the food. We do a lot of that now through our to-go mobile app. What we’re doing is just allowing somebody to come up and essentially order through a mobile app, or there’s a person outside taking orders very similar to the Chick-fil-A model to make sure that we’re meeting our guests needs.
We don’t know early on if it’s going to be as fast as your typical fast food restaurants where everything is pre-made, sitting there in a warming oven. We’re making everything from scratch, made to order. So there will be some inherent slowness but our goal is going to be continual research and development on best practices to become faster.
How would you measure success in Tampa to expand to having more drive-thru locations?
Obviously with anything new, you got to get the kinks out. Our goal is to do that and then expand it as much as possible. It’s not easy finding drive-thru locations. So when you find them, you want to capitalize on it. All the other restaurant concepts out there are vying for these drive-thru spaces so finding the great locations that offer drive thru at an affordable price point and our geographic parameters for site selection is important.
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How are you differentiating yourself from other drive-thrus?
What other fast food do you know out there that you can get amazing oven-roasted broccoli? The answer that I found is there’s not. What I’ve always been taught is if you want to be a differentiator, you bring something to the market that doesn’t exist and I don’t see a great chef-inspired, healthy-minded restaurant concept to give you convenience with speed, health and great flavor with amazing hospitality. If you combine all of those things, I really believe that’s what America wants. America is starting to really understand how bad traditional drive-thru food is for you.
Other than it being close to the original Outback, what are some of the other reasons you’ve chosen that location on Dale Mabry?
The beautiful part about south Dale Mabry is it’s in the heart of the Tampa peninsula, the road that connects north and south Tampa. And we all know that north and south are essentially two different communities, but they all share the same beautiful name.
Azeele Street is a beautiful cross street that binds the east and west side of South Tampa. Our goal was to look at how Walt Disney chose the location for Disney World, the intersection of I-4 and the turnpike, and it was this perfect little X in the middle.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My father moved to Tampa in the late 80s to open up his first Outback Steakhouse. He had his lucky saddle that he sold for enough money to give him gas to come to Tampa to start Outback. It was a screaming success and really helped the Tampa community. Fast forward to 2015, my father presented me with that same lucky saddle, and said it was time for me to have all the luck and so later that year we created Bolay.
For us to now bring Bolay back to Tampa where I went to high school and my father created Outback, it’s just really special. It’s not as easy as just opening a restaurant. I realized it’s like putting on a Broadway show. You can do all the work, but if people don’t come to your show, you don’t have a show. So we’re really honored and doing everything we can to make sure that people come to our show. That’s what we truly believe in.