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Sarasota-Manatee Originals - Celebrating A Community Of Culinary Excellence


As the world welcomed the dawn of the new millennium, Sarasota, Florida began a transformation that would forever change the face of this hidden gem along the Suncoast. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which is synonymous with luxury and elegance, set its sights on Sarasota, casting a spotlight on the town's rich cultural tapestry and breathtaking natural beauty. 

With that being said, one wonders how this evolution impacted the local dining scene, and what role the Sarasota-Manatee Originals played in preserving the essence of the community's culinary heritage. 

Once Known As A “Circus City” Sarasota Undergoes A Metamorphosis

Many have referred to Sarasota as the 'Circus City' due to its historical ties to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. However, as we entered the new millennium, Sarasota began its metamorphosis. The town's cultural sophistication, natural beauty, and coastal appeal attracted the attention of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which chose Sarasota to be a new location for one of its resort-style luxury hotels. The construction of a Ritz-Carlton Hotel would send a message to the world that Sarasota had earned its place among top-tier destinations.

Caption: Micheal Klauber - owner of Micheals on East

The Ripple Effect

The arrival of The Ritz-Carlton along with a downtown resurgence. Sarasota was stepping into the spotlight, and with that spotlight brought an influx of big-brand chains, eager to tap into the town's newfound popularity. Independent local restaurant owners soon found themselves facing the pressures of competition from these corporate giants. Michael Klauber, the owner of Sarasota's beloved Michaels on East restaurant (established in 1987), recalls the pivotal moment: "We realized that Sarasota was changing, and we were starting to see the big guys coming in. None of us had the budgets to battle these highly subsidized corporations."

Klauber wasn't alone in his concerns. He discovered that many other local restaurateurs were dealing with the same concerns. It was D'Arcy Arpke, co-owner of Longboat Key's Euphemia Haye restaurant at the time (established in 1980), who helped to play a role in bringing together other local restaurant owners. Together they shared the idea with other independently owned restaurants to join forces to preserve the community's culinary identity. Thus, the "Sarasota-Manatee Originals" initiative was born.


Caption: D’Ary Arpke, former owner Euphemia Haye

Celebrating Culinary Excellence & Community Spirit

In September 2003, the Sarasota-Manatee Originals officially emerged sharing a passion for celebrating and preserving the community's distinct culinary essence. This group included visionary independent restaurant owners and chefs from Sarasota and Manatee counties who realized that their fellow restaurateurs weren't competitors but rather collaborators. 

Our Culinary Journey

Today, the Sarasota-Manatee Originals stand together as a community of over 60 restaurants, stretching across 40 miles of Florida's central Gulf Coast. From the northern shores of Anna Maria Island to the southern beaches of Venice and every neighborhood in between, these culinary artisans provide diners with a tapestry of unique, local flavors that only they can offer.

The true magic of the Originals lies not just in their diverse menu offerings but in their unwavering commitment to community. When a community rallies behind a shared cause, its power becomes limitless. Brought together by their affection for the region, a deep appreciation for their local culture, and an unwavering commitment to culinary greatness, SMO and its members collaborate to preserve, enhance, and celebrate the heritage they collectively cherish within their communities.

 Caption: SMO Board of Directors and Staff (2020)

Defining Our Suncoast

What defines the Suncoast isn't a specific flavor or cuisine but rather the passionate personalities, unwavering dedication to quality, and love for the community that characterizes these independent restaurant professionals. Through creative advertising, unique marketing events, and strategic partnerships, the Sarasota-Manatee Originals showcase their Member Restaurants to infuse even more character into the Suncoast.

As the Originals continue their journey, they invite the community to join them in celebrating and supporting local independent restaurants, not only along the Suncoast but across the country. They encourage everyone to "Eat Like A Local," for it is in these local flavors that the true essence of a community is found.

The Sarasota-Manatee Originals and their members have woven a tapestry of culinary excellence, community spirit, and shared passion. This journey that Sarasota-Manatee Originals and their members are on is a reminder that when individuals come together with a common purpose, they can create something truly remarkable.

As always, Eat Like A Local!  Cheers!