It feels alive. When you first walk into Florence and the Spice Boys, the globally-inspired fast-casual eatery in the Landings, you’ll notice an energy here that you don’t always find in this area. Whether it’s the variety of lush, dangling plants, the cookbooks from around the world, the Bohemian hints in the decor, the intriguing flavor combinations of the cuisine, the diverse clientele or all those curious onlookers who stop in front of the wide open entryway and stare inside … there’s a liveliness here. Call it curiosity. Call it excitement. Call it a culinary revolution. You’d be right. Florence and the Spice Boys is the latest offering from chef Steven Schmitt and his wife, Florence Schmitt, and their friend and business partner, Carl Kolber. The trio introduced itself to the area as a food truck, delighting local foodies with their Israeli-style chicken shawarma, and were so successful that the move to brick-and-mortar was inevitable. After months of planning, and months of answering fans’ constant Facebook questions of when with a simple refrain of soon, their vision became reality.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan


They all met years ago in Europe. Steven, who grew up all over Europe but mainly in Germany and Carl, who grew up mostly in Sweden, met through Carl’s sister when they were both at separate boarding schools. They ended up at the European Business School London, where Florence came into the picture. The story of how they graduated from friends to Spice Boys starts — as most innovation stories do — with a bit of failure … the good kind, though. Kolber was set to launch a restaurant concept in Manhattan, and when the deal fell through, he wasn’t sure where his next opportunity would take him. 

“I kept on telling him, you’re crazy for trying to do this in Manhattan for your first project,” Steven Schmitt says. “You should go to a town like Sarasota because it’s wide open here. There’s a lot you can do that hasn’t been done, you know? And you can do something different and you can stand out a little bit.”

Kolber was interested, but he needed a chef. Steven Schmitt, now 41, had been there/done that, and he wasn’t eager to go back to the grueling kitchen lifestyle he experienced early in his career. “I had made my peace with this industry and left it behind,” Steven says, “ but Carl’s passion for the hospitality industry was infectious.” A partnership was formed, a concept was developed.  They could have gone all-in on a brick-and-mortar restaurant from the outset, but they opted instead to start small with a food truck. They called it Spice Boys, and originally it was just Steven and Carl mainly working in temperatures that could soar to 135 degrees on those mid-summer days. Florence started taking a more active role as the face of the operation, and the food truck really started taking off. 

If you saw them at street fests and events around town, chances are you witnessed some long lines. They kept the menu simple. One thing was clear though: the partnership worked. “Carl is really the engine that keeps the whole thing ticking,” Steven Schmitt says. 

let’s talk about the food

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

To say that Kolber and the Schmitts are well-traveled is a vast understatement. Their globetrotting makes the Johnny Cash song lyrics in “I’ve Been Everywhere” read like a preschool primer. And every place they’ve visited —India, China, Japan, the Middle East, every corner of Europe—serves as inspiration for this menu. The chicken shawarma tacos are a perfect example. To start, the taco “shell” in this case is a pita. Shawarma in itself isn’t particularly novel. It’s marinated chicken thighs that are grilled rather than cooked vertically as you’ll see a lot of shawarma prepared around the world. There’s a house-made pickled slaw on top that gives it a nice crunch and an easy-on-the-eyes pop of purple. But, as Kolber points out, “the sauce combo is what makes it so flavorful.” He’s referring, of course, to the trio of house-made tahini, zhug, and amba.

All three are created in-house, and all three have Middle Eastern origins, with the tahini bringing a more earthy flavor, the amba bringing sweetness from the mango, and the Yemeni zhug carrying a spicy herb-forward sauce akin to a chimichurri. To top it all off, there’s a quartered egg that is served at that blissful point between soft-boiled and hard-boiled. It’s a chord in a beautifully composed song, but it’s a great one. 

“If you put an egg in the boiler for seven minutes, then take it out and put it in an ice bath, it will be approximately like ours,” Kolber says. “Just perfect.”

No dish on Florence and the Spice Boys’ menu is just one thing. These flavors are complex without requiring more conservative diners to step too far out of their comfort zone. “I don’t like rules,” Steven Schmitt says. Call it inventive. Call it delicious. Just be careful if you call it fusion. The team isn’t throwing together flavors from around the world for the sake of a marketing ploy or a selling point. The fusion you find at Florence and the Spice Boys is a reflection of their tastes, interests and passions. “It really does work because it’s genuine,” Florence Schmitt says.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

The house-made hummus, for example, is the result of Kolber’s obsession with recreating the hummus he loved when he was young. “It was me spending the summer in Istanbul, Beirut, all over Israel, just with the specific purpose of investigating, how do I create the hummus that I like?” Kolber says. “And they’re all different depending on where you are. So picking up little techniques, paying people to give me some tips, talking to managers, grabbing cooks, taking notes. That’s the kind of stuff I love doing.” It took between 20 and 30 iterations before he landed on the version that is lovingly brought to your table. 

Every recipe is like that. There’s the place where they first tried a spice, a sauce, an ingredient. There’s the journey to recreate it. There’s the challenge to make it palatable and appealing to a broad audience. And there are dishes that seem to just . . .  happen . . . like the turmeric fried chicken sandwich. 

It’s a Kerala, India-inspired fried chicken recipe that uses a chicken thigh, plus a Japanese kewpie mayo (often the secret ingredient in the sauces that make some restaurants famous). The sandwich is also served with two types of pickles ( a house-made radish pickle and a more traditional dill pickle) and a pile of that crunchy purple slaw. It’s all topped with a Japanese okonomi sauce that reads like a sweeter Worcestershire. 

That one came together after a visit to London’s Kricket, an Indian-inspired restaurant with multiple locations. Steven loved their Kerala fried chicken, and like Kolber’s approach to hummus, went about learning how to recreate it. “I think,” Steven Schmitt says of the creation, “that was just me playing around.” 

No inventive fast-casual concept would be complete without a couple of snacky dessert options, and Florence and the Spice Boys have one that is sure to excite the kiddos. The Spice Boys cookie uses Goldfish crackers—yep, the ones that parents of toddlers find strewn in the nether regions of couches and cars—to create an especially crunchy chocolate chip cookie. Florence invented it herself, taking inspiration from Milk Bar CEO Christina Tosi. 

“I am historically a terrible baker,” Florence Schmitt says. “Really one of the world’s worst bakers my whole life.” What she lacked in baking skills she made up for in a thirst, er, sweet tooth, for knowledge. “I persevered because I always wanted to be one of those moms who could bake,” she says. So, she went to work taking Tosi’s courses, learning the science behind baking, and now her cookie is a must-add to any Florence and the Spice Boys order. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan


For Kolber, who was supposed to open his first restaurant in Manhattan, the Spice Boys—and now Florence and the Spice Boys—has never felt like second prize. “This is the dream,” he says. “And the dream of where it all leads could be all kinds of things down the road.” Multiple locations? Maybe. A new concept? Sure. Just like their cuisine, nothing is off limits at this point. After all, there are no rules.