The owner of Rocco’s Tacos says he’s aiming for Dec. 1 to open his new UTC restaurant in Sarasota. | Eastern County


Rocco Mangel is definitely sentenced to life in the restaurant business.

His grandfather was the general manager of the famous Copacabana nightclub in New York, and then his father was also involved in restaurant management. Rocco Mangel, born and raised in New York, started working in a restaurant when he was 13 years old.

Rocco Mangel arrived in Florida in 1997 and worked in restaurants until he opened his first Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar in 2007 in West Palm Beach. Mangel now operates eight restaurants in Florida, and it is set to open a new Rocco’s Tacos restaurant, its ninth, at the University Town Center at 243 N. Cattlemen Road in late 2022.

Rocco Mangel said his business is an authentic Mexican restaurant with a vibrant atmosphere. It’s known for its happy hour with over 300 varieties of tequila as well as its legendary taco Tuesdays and all-you-can-eat weekend brunch.

The 4,400 square foot UTC location will feature several new twists not found in Rocco’s other locations. Mangel said the restaurant’s design has been underway for six months and will feature a pergola system that will allow diners to enjoy comfortable outdoor seating year-round. Music from a DJ will also give a little extra energy.

Rocco’s Taco’s and Tequila Bar will feature a plethora of drink choices, including over 300 different types of tequila. Photo provided.

“With the kind of dynamic we find ourselves in with the pandemic, eating out is far superior to eating indoors,” Mangel said. “So we completely covered the outdoor patio. It’s going to have a working pergola system that will be open to the stars, then close to the rain. We incorporate a lot of different trees, and the UTC location will have a very large, completely covered outdoor bar. So this whole storefront as you see it now is going to be wide open.

Diners can look forward to Rocco’s Taco Tuesdays, which will offer all-you-can-eat tacos. Happy hours will feature what Mangel — who doesn’t drink — calls “marga-liters” that can be taken home. He credited the company’s beverage manager, David Ortiz, for giving Rocco’s the happy hour flair he says will become one of the best in the area.

“He’s amazing. He puts together different types of cocktails and follows trends,” Mangel said. “We have a dynamic drink list and we’re heavy-handed. We pour two ounces in our drinks because that’s what people want when they drink.

Mangel said he was putting together a team of general managers, chefs and staff. Furniture, fixtures and equipment have been ordered, but Mangel fears supply issues will interfere with the 9-month deadline for the space to be cleared and built to his specifications.

“My goal is to open December 1,” Mangel said. “Believe me, I would like to be open in UTC. Benderson is very blatant that we are opening up as well.

A rendering of the interior of Rocco’s Tacos arriving in downtown college. Photo provided.

Once Rocco’s opens at UTC, it will be the flagship of its restaurant chain. Mangel said all of his restaurants will be brought up to 2022 standards and he is looking to continue to grow. He plans to put Rocco in airports. He also said he might put a Rocco in the Lakewood Ranch area if the UTC location does well.

He says he is available for his clients.

“I don’t hide behind my restaurants,” Mangel said. “I like talking to people. I look forward to meeting people in Sarasota and want this to be a neighborhood friendly place. It will be a spectacular place, not just a cookie-cutter Mexican restaurant like a corporate conglomerate would be. It will be something special.

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