Hot Tomato employee John Reed carefully weaved through the packed tables, greeting customers and asking if everything was okay. Most people, with sandwiches or soup spoons in hand, could only nod “yes” happily.
A week before Hot Tomato, located at 2702 E. College Ave. in Ruskin, opened, social media, including the Facebook page “Ruskin Folks,” exploded with comments about it. People immediately began singing the praises of the new establishment that is a bakery, market and restaurant merged into a single concept. The sandwiches were great! The desserts looked wonderful! The comments were uniformly positive — enthusiastic, even.
“I am overwhelmed and truly blessed,” said Tina Detty, one of the owners of the family-owned business. “We thank God every day and the local community for welcoming us and spreading the word. Every day has been a new learning experience for us, and we take what we have learned and continue to adjust our concept to better serve our customers.”
On a recent Saturday, they had plenty of opportunity for all of that — the line of customers stretched to, and sometimes beyond, the front door.
According to Detty, they are responding to that by adding more point-of-sale terminals to speed up ordering and adjusting procedures in how they operate. But one thing that will remain is the food. On that Saturday, everyone had only good things to say about it.
“We use all authentic products, quality meats and cheeses,” Detty said. “We are becoming pretty well known not just for our sandwiches — we didn’t expect our tomato pie to take off so quickly. If you haven’t tried one, you are missing out.”
It would be easy enough to have missed that — the glassed cases are filled with bakery goods and delicious-looking desserts. For some people, it could take a while to work through that to a new kind of pie.
“We make in-house over 20 different pies,” Detty continued. “We also offer cannoli, a wide variety of pastries and fresh doughnuts. We take pride in making quality, great-tasting food. We offer homemade soups daily. Our most popular sandwiches are the Cuban, Dirty Bird, Big BLT and others. We also serve breakfast sandwiches from 8 to 11 a.m. In addition, we have a full sit-down coffee bar offering espresso, cappuccino, lattes and café con leche.”
In addition to the six family members working at Hot Tomato, the establishment also has five employees. According to Detty, they are hiring. They also own a location in Palmetto.
“We’ve always wanted to expand into the Ruskin area, since we reside in the area,” Detty said. “We saw an opportunity to serve the growth happening in the area.”
And back to the tables — there is another component of the concept that perhaps was planned or perhaps was simply serendipity from the overall environment created at Hot Tomato: people sharing tables. While somewhat common in large cities with limited space, it is less so in places like South Hillsborough. As chairs open up, invitations are voiced to sit down. It turns out you can meet a lot of nice people over a good Cuban sandwich.
Hot Tomato is located on the corner of 27th Street and East College Avenue. For more information, call 813-938-1888 or visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheHotTomato.