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Restaurant group to build new Orlando HQ, expand Bento Cafe brand

The restaurant group behind Bento Cafe, Sticky Rice Lao Street Food, Kasa Restaurant & Bar, Domu, Avenue Gastrobar, Mochi Frozen Yogurt and Sushi Chao is preparing Orlando’s tastebuds for bigger, bolder flavors and expansion plans.

The Bento Group, co-founded by brothers Jimmy and Johnny Tung, plans to move its headquarters at the end of this year from its 2,000-square-foot space at 189 S. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando to the Mills/50 district on East Colonial Drive across from the new Asian-inspired Sticky Rice Lao Street Food restaurant, which opened in December.

The plans are to lease a new 10,000-square-foot space, which has yet to be built. The landlord is Tuan-Chau Colonial LLC and the general contractor is to be determined, Tung said. That building will serve as a 3,000-square-foot corporate headquarters; a 3,000-square foot catering facility with a test kitchen and training space; and a 3,500-square-foot Bento Cafe flagship location.

“We are centralizing management so that we can streamline our operations to provide a consistent product and quality experience for our fan base with the new headquarters not only [being] centrally located in Orlando, but centrally located in Florida [too],” said Jimmy.

There are currently 30 employees in Bento Group and 500-plus employees total. Tung said the new building would create about 20 jobs for the catering division, 20 for the headquarters and 80 for the Bento Cafe restaurant.

The new space is needed, as the group is expanding the Bento Cafe brand in and out of state, Johnny Tung explained. “We are pretty aggressive in our expansion right now. Since being in operation for 15 years, we’ve seen our sales increase every year so we are very confident right now.”

When they were young, the Tung brothers’ parents were in the restaurant business, and as they grew up, the two young men knew they wanted to do a hip, non-traditional eatery where people could hang out, Tung said.

There currently are nine Bento Cafe locations, and Tung says they will open six more this year, including two new sites in Orlando. One of those will be at the new corporate headquarters on Colonial Drive, which will open near the end of the year. The other one previously was potentially going to be near the Trader Joe’s in Winter Park, however, that is off the menu now and the group instead will open one on the corner of Lee Road and Orlando Avenue this summer.
Other new locations will be in Gainesville, downtown St. Petersburg and South Florida. In the next two years, Tung said the group also will look at having Bento Cafe’s in Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; and Washington, D.C. It costs roughly $1 million to open each Bento Cafe location, said Tung.

“Bento Cafe doesn’t just do well in college towns. When we took that leap outside of Gainesville and opened in downtown Orlando, the business took off. We have proven to do well in many markets,” Tung said.

Tung added that Bento Cafe has included poke bowls on its menu and says its giving customers fresher ingredients.

The group also is undergoing a rebranding of its downtown eatery Kasa Restaurant & Bar as Chela Tequila & Tacos.

“We’ve had [Kasa] for four years now and we are rebranding it to give it a new look. It will be under the same ownership and management. The downtown lunch crowd is hard to get and we wanted to make something more approachable and accessible for people who are going to Orlando City Soccer games or Magic games,” Tung said.

Meanwhile, the group’s hip concepts such as Domu and Sticky Rice that serve up Asian fare with a twist are inspiring the group to continue experimenting with new ideas.

“I want to contribute more to the Orlando foodie scene. Because we are building our headquarters here, this is going to be our home, and instead of doing the 50th Vietnamese restaurant in Orlando, I want something new,” Tung said. “That’s why it was important for us to create Sticky Rice. We want to continue to experiment and get smaller places for these concepts so it’s less overhead costs. These are not our bread and butter, but we are very lucky to do these side concepts and advance the foodie scene.”