Upcoming Lakeland locations for Gaskins and Nick’s; virtual weapons at Ax-Caliber

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Sporting the odd – but popular – combination of barbecue and seafood, Winter Haven favorite Gaskins is coming to Lakeside Village.

At the location once occupied by Beef O’Brady’s Express, Gaskins will open at 1614 Town Center Drive in late September or early October, depending on delivery of equipment. This is the third location for Jeané and John Gaskins, who have owned a store in Maine for five years and opened their Winter Haven location on Cypress Gardens Boulevard in 2019.

“We started Gaskins because Maine didn’t have a barbecue, so we were really one of the first in that area to barbecue since we were from the south,” said John Gaskins. “But obviously if you open a barbecue joint over there, you have to sell lobster rolls. Okay, because you’re in Maine and you’re in a tourist area. [and] people want lobster rolls. ”

Despite adding more or less lobster rolls as a necessity, Gaskins quickly became known as one of the best places to have the popular seafood feast in Maine. The couple brought the same recipe, which uses a special bread made by a small Massachusetts bakery in Winter Haven, where it quickly became their best-selling item despite being priced at $ 20.

The Gaskins know that their restaurant’s combined offerings can raise eyebrows. But Jeané Gaskins urges customers to just give it a chance.

“People were thinking the same thing in Maine, they were like, ‘BBQ and lobster? How’s it going to be?’” She said. “Well, it’s not grilled lobster. We don’t spread barbecue sauce all over the lobster. “

The Gaskins recently closed their home location in Maine, a victim of closures brought on by COVID-19 and still not fully lifted in the northeast. John said while sales fell 60% at the Winter Haven store in 2020, they fell 90% in Maine, where the restaurant only operated on a seasonal basis.

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“Last summer was horrible. And then this summer doesn’t seem to be any better. The cities canceled all the festivals, even this year they canceled all the festivals, they canceled all the fireworks, they canceled. canceled everything for the summer, ”he said. “On the beach, if you don’t have the summer crowds, it’s definitely not worth opening.”

After the Gaskins sold their Maine store land, they decided to invest in a location in Lakeland. John said the demographics fit well for a quick-service restaurant with big-ticket items due to higher household income levels and average house prices. Plus, Gaskins is next to upscale restaurants and the movie theater, which matches the price of the seafood spot.

John said the more expensive items ensure that all full-time Gaskins employees can earn between $ 15 and $ 20 an hour.

Gaskins will be opening its new location at Lakeside Village in Lakeland in late September or early October.

“There are two things we are proud of, and that is serving all-natural fresh food, the most natural we can buy, the most premium products we can buy, and we are proud to know that every member of our restaurant staff makes a living wage, “Gaskins said.” So we choose premium and premium locations in order to sell premium products, which is not cheap. ”

The Lakeland Gaskins will be a little different from its sister store Winter Haven. John said the Fish City Grill in the same mall had a “seafood exclusivity,” so the couple had to agree to limit seafood sales in their store. As a result, Lakeland’s location will focus more on barbecue and lobster dishes, essentially eliminating fried seafood, with the exception of specials on certain days.

Plus, while not necessarily available when it opens, Gaskins will eventually offer beer and wine to go with all of your favorite dishes. John said if the idea is successful, they will roll it out at the Winter Haven site as well.

The restaurant will have around 74 seats inside and 40 outside in case you want to dine. But the Gaskins envision the place to cater primarily to the take-out crowd.

Essentially, Gaskins is a family owned and operated business. The couple’s two children – Tristen, 20, and Skylynn, 14 – grew up in the restaurant industry, helping out where they can. Tristen even commemorated his dedication to his parents’ businesses with a tattoo of their last name on his arm, with the “G” shaped after the Gaskins logo. He is about to run the Lakeland site alongside Jeané’s cousin, Christa Ford.

In the future, the Gaskins hope to expand their unique restaurant to Tampa and then to the rest of South Florida.

Lakeland Deli gets a new location

Gaskins isn’t the only beloved place to benefit from expansion. Uncle Nick’s Italian Deli, Bagels and Catering will open a spin-off called Christopher’s All American Deli on Monday.

The restaurant is owned and will be run by Sam DeBellis, 26, and his father, Ken DeBellis, 51. The new restaurant is named after Sam’s 4-year-old son, Christopher. Sam said Christopher is convinced he owns the restaurant and has informed the employees who are and are not allowed to work there when it opens.

Fans of the Italian bagel spot will recognize the new location at 1755 East Edgewood Drive, which previously housed another Uncle Nick spot that closed in 2018.

Sam said the family took too much when they tried to expand the Nick’s brand with three more stores; they had to close the one in Edgewood, one in the Nobay Village complex and another in Bradenton.

Uncle Nick's Italian Deli and Bagels at Old Road 37. The popular bagel store expands to a second all-American-themed location in Lakeland.

“I think when we opened the Edgewood store we were always trying to figure out what we really were and be able to really hone what we were doing,” he said. “And now we’ve been here at Uncle Nick for six years, six years, three years without having to juggle stores. You really are, you can just focus on the exact things that you do.”

Sam said he wasn’t nervous about expanding this time around, mainly because the issue with the Edgewood store was not a lack of success, but rather that the restaurant was simply too difficult to manage.

“It got a little too hectic for us so we had to cut it down a bit, get back to the roots. And now we’re ready to expand it a bit,” he said.

When the DeBellis family first tried to expand, they kept the menu and the Nick’s brand in all areas. This time around, they’re giving the new restaurant an American theme, changing it just enough while keeping the menu’s signature items.

If Uncle Nick fans are looking for traditional Italian entrees or for shopping at the Italian Market, they will have to visit the original store. But if they just need a takeout sandwich or a burger, the new store will meet their needs perfectly. Additionally, while all seats have been eliminated at Uncle Nick, there will be 10 seats inside and between four and six seats outside at Christopher.

“We are originally Italians, but we are Americans. We were born and raised here. We are very proud of our country [and] we wanted to do something with an all-American theme, ”Sam said.“ We thought going with an all-American theme would be a different story, a different feel than Uncle Nick’s.

Christopher has a deal with some really big brands. Meats will be supplied by Boar’s Head and coffee offerings will be brought to you by Joffrey’s, a large Tampa-based roaster that has locations in Disney parks.

Ax-Caliber prepares for ‘ax-pansion’

Still looking for a place to eat? How about shooting virtual machine guns? Because Ax-Caliber, Polk County’s only ax throwing location, is growing.

Patrons throw axes at the coffee shop and restaurant at the Ax-Caliber ax throwing venue in downtown Lakeland.  The site has added additional throwing lanes and will soon be opening a virtual shooting range.

The first phase of the site expansion was the addition of three more ax throwing pits to the rear of the building, which opened in mid-July. Joyce Woodrow, who owns and runs Ax-Caliber with her husband, Kraig, said the stalls were needed to dampen the crowds.

“On the weekends we’re extremely busy, and sometimes we have a two or three hour wait,” said Woodrow. “We were turning down a lot of people, so we decided to add three more booths to hopefully handle this when people come on the weekend.”

The Woodrows have rented the other half of the building they use to operate Ax-Caliber, which also serves as a restaurant and cafe. With the expansion, Ax-Caliber totals 13,000 square feet, nearly double its opening area. The unused space will be transformed into The Range: A Virtual Experience, the county’s first virtual shooting range. The Woodrows originally wanted to open a shooting range before starting their ax throwing business.

At The Range, customers will be holding realistic fake pistols equipped with lasers used to shoot an on-screen projection in multiple game modes. There will be four firing lanes that can accommodate up to four shooters each, Kraig said. While weapons are not lethal, they will have the weight and recoil of real weapons.

Case Hannum, an ax throwing trainer at Ax-Caliber, an ax throwing coffee shop and restaurant in Lakeland, Florida.  Wednesday July 14, 2021. ERNST PETERS / THE LEGER

He added that while The Range’s primary focus is recreation, customers could also learn how to shoot in a concealed transport class or the space could be used for training purposes for local police departments.

The scheduled opening of the Range is late August or early September. While guests will be able to walk through the existing Ax-Caliber space to access it, there will also be another entrance and lounge on the other side of the building.

Joyce Woodrow, owner of Ax-Caliber, said the ax throwing venue, cafe, and restaurant often have a two or three hour wait on weekends.

The Woodrows hope their expansion will help them keep the 60 to 80 customers they say are moving away every weekend due to long waits.

“We really want to keep our customers here in downtown Lakeland,” Joyce said. “We don’t want them to go through the door and go find another place to play. We want them to play here.”

Maya Lora can be contacted for advice or questions at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @mayaklora.

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