Residents of Palm Beach Gardens now get to enjoy what those farther north have been treated to for years, as a fourth Berry Fresh Cafe opened in the Shoppes of Oakbrook Plaza late last summer. The local chain was founded by longtime restaurateur Tim Timoteo, who opened the first cafe in Port St. Lucie in 2009. His son Mitch soon joined his dad in the business as they opened two more locations, in Stuart and Jupiter, becoming director of operations in 2018. When Tim retired, Mitch took the helm as CEO—a role he continues today (though regulars often spot him behind the counter taking orders or in the kitchen cooking). His father sadly passed away last year, and Mitch continues to honor his legacy, expanding the business that has become a local favorite. We caught up with the Palm City resident to learn a little more about the family biz.
How did your dad get started in the restaurant industry?
He was in the Navy and heard about this successful restaurant franchise that had just started up called Kentucky Fried Chicken—this was the mid ’60s. He and a buddy had some savings, and they drove to Kentucky and made a handshake deal with the Colonel Sanders. My father grew up in a social family environment where great food, friendship, and relationships were important, and this career just fit his personality.
Where did the idea for Berry Fresh Cafe come from?
At that time, the fresh food movement was starting. People didn’t want to go to chain restaurants; they wanted farm-to-table. That’s where he came up with the name Berry Fresh. He was living in Port St. Lucie, so that’s where he opened the first one. That was
14 years ago, and we’re still there.
Did you always want to work with your dad?
When I was a little boy, I could only spend time with him on weekends because he worked all the time. We always said, “Someday we’re going to build a national chain together.” And we did. We had up to 30 R.J. Gators restaurants at our peak. But in 2006-2007, with the economy, we got wiped out. I give my father a lot of credit because he just picked right back up. He was 68 years old when he started Berry Fresh.
He was such an industry leader. What’s the biggest thing you have learned from
watching him over the years?
Definitely perseverance. He always had a positive outlook, even though he had some setbacks in his career. He always told me, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you handle it.” He loved the restaurant business.
What’s your business philosophy?
Our secret sauce is our culture. We couldn’t do this without our team, and it’s all about the team. We have a lot of systems in place for training and rewarding our people for doing a great job, like the Mr. T’s Employee Assistance Fund—”Mr. T” was my dad [Tim]. It’s a tough industry overall, and the fund helps people in the restaurant family who are in need. We also give back 20 percent to the community and do a lot of fundraising. We’re a restaurant with a soul.
Talk about the “fresh” in Berry Fresh Cafe.
We source fresh whenever possible, and our menu rotates based on seasons and is influenced by whatever vegetables are growing at the time. I go to Fitzgerald Farms in Georgia to buy peaches. We get strawberries from the Parkesdale Farm in Plant City, Florida. We get blueberries from Winter Haven and heirloom tomatoes from Homestead.
Stop by the new location at 111658 U.S. Hwy. 1, Palm Beach Gardens; 561.486.7580 ϖ