The Miami-based casual Caribbean food chain, Pollo Tropical, has finally expanded into Sarasota. The restaurant, located at 5415 Fruitville Road, is only 9 miles from New College of Florida’s campus, offering flavorful and affordable meals that remind many students of home.
“It’s hard to get Hispanic fast food in Sarasota,” first-year Gina Vazquez wrote in an e-mail interview. “Pollo Tropical is where my family goes when we want some decent yuca frita y una completa. When I get homesick, I crave my family’s food, but I don’t have enough time to make it. Pollo Tropical is a nice way to get rid of those cravings on the days I miss my home.”
The restaurant chain is best known for its Caribbean-inspired food which draws influence from Cuban, Jamaican, Haitian and even Native American cooking. The menu features a variety of tropical meats such as mojo roast pork, grilled citrus chicken and guava barbeque ribs. Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy TropiChops with made-from-scratch rice and beans, sautéed veggies and an assortment of original-recipe sauces. Sides include fried yuca with garlic sauce, sweet plantains and corn fritters.
“Quick and cheap black beans, rice, sauteed onions, maduros, and yuca?” Vasquez wrote. “Yes please.”
The grand opening featured live DJs, a robotic surfboard backdrop, face painting and raffles every 30 minutes for free chicken for a year. The “beach party” attracted hundreds of visitors excited to win free food and check out the new local eatery.
“If I won free chicken for a year, I might start eating chicken again,” first-year vegetarian Tali Spiliadis said. “I’m excited for another option for real, good food in Sarasota and I’m excited to see if it becomes a regular spot for me and friends.”
Since 2000, the size of the Hispanic community in Sarasota County has more than doubled, and it’s expected to continue to grow. As a result, the Sarasota-Bradenton area has experienced a boom of Latinx-oriented businesses like Pollo Tropical.
Some who visit Pollo Tropical on a regular basis consider it a staple in the Caribbean diaspora community.
“My mom always used to get the whole chicken family meal with maduros and frijoles when I lived back in Miami,” first-year Natalia Reyes said. “Now that I’m at college here in Sarasota, it’s nice to know that I have a little piece of home and I can get my fix of TropiChops whenever I want!”
Research has shown that racial and ethnic minorities often experience damaging emotional and psychological effects as a result of feeling isolated in majority white spaces. The addition of Pollo Tropical to the local landscape could help mitigate these effects for some Caribbean students by offering comfort and positive visibility of their culture.
“Pollo Tropical is very nostalgic,” first-year Sofia Jimenez said. “I’m probably going to go there a lot so [I] can still get a little taste of Latin American food. It’s the closest food from home.”
Sandra Pascual, the director of marketing for the chain, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that Pollo Tropical has aggressive growth plans and that she expected to open more stores in the Sarasota-Bradenton area within the next few years.
“The opportunities are limitless,” Pascual said. “We’ll start with one and take it from there and look to open more. It all depends on real estate availability.”