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Big Ray's Fish Camp heads to Tampa Riverwalk

Nothing says “Florida” quite like a waterfront seafood shack, which is why Nick Cruz, Owner and Operator of Big Ray’s Fish Camp, is excited to see his restaurant expand to the Tampa Convention Center, right next to The Sail (formerly the Sail Pavilion).

Cruz recently signed a licensing agreement with Aramark, the food and beverage provider for the Tampa Convention Center, after the concession company’s representatives came and ate a meal at his Ballast Point establishment in South Tampa. As a part of the deal, Cruz will take a percentage of sales.

Opened in July 2015, Big Ray’s quickly became a favorite for locals in the mood for a delicious, no-frills seafood experience. Serving some of Tampa’s best grouper sandwiches from an unassuming spot on Interbay Boulevard, Big Ray’s was built in a tradition of Florida fish shacks from yesteryear. Its menu walks a fine line between traditional and daring, from conch fritters and peel-and-eat shrimp to succulent grouper cheeks and decadent lobster corndogs.

“What we're doing is what people did with fish shacks in the '50s and '60s,” says Cruz. “It's what we saw was lacking in Florida. We get fresh fish in when it’s available and have a lobster corndog, which nobody has ever seen before. We created that.”

The Cruz family has a long history in Tampa, tracing its roots back generations. Cruz himself cut his teeth in kitchens before stepping out on his own. 

“I'm a fifth-generation Tampanian,” says Cruz. “I started cooking throughout some kitchens here in South Tampa and opened a catering business about eight years ago. I just decided to open up a good seafood and grouper sandwich place.”

The menu at the convention center venue will mirror that of the original location. That means plenty of sandwiches -- including a grouper, Cuban, burger, and shrimp po’ boy -- and desserts like key lime pie, fried key lime pie, and fried oreos.

“At the Sail Pavilion, we're going to try to bring that feeling of Florida in the '70s and '60s," Cruz says. "That feeling of what it was like to go get a great grouper sandwich on the water."

Medical marijuana dispensary now in New Port Richey in Pasco County

Patients seeking medical marijuana in the north Tampa Bay area no longer have to drive to Clearwater to access the closest dispensary. Trulieve, Florida’s first and largest licensed cannabis treatment company, opened a new store in New Port Richey earlier this month. The latest location is the first dispensary in Pasco County.

“New Port Richey was a great location for us because we already have three Bay Area locations,” says Victoria Walker, communication director at Trulieve. “The patient base here is really robust so, for patients who live further north, this gives them a place closer to home. They don't have to drive so far south to Tampa or Clearwater.”

Trulieve's cannabis-based products are designed for inhalation, oral consumption, and topical application. Patients who have been prescribed medical marijuana by a one of the 1,300 certified doctors in Florida can purchase products using their state-issued ID card.

Before the New Port Richey location, patients in Pasco County had to drive to Hillsborough or Pinellas County to get to the nearest dispensary, or alternatively pay Trulieve's $25 delivery fee.

Over 112,000 Floridians have been registered as medical marijuana patients since the state approved legislation in 2016. Patients with conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, and PTSD qualify for medical marijuana cards. Although medical marijuana is available in 29 states, it remains illegal under federal law.

Trulieve opened its first store in July 2016 and quickly made plans to expand. But in summer 2017, Florida passed a law that limits the number of dispensaries for each business to 25. Walker pointed out that the company already has plans to develop more than 25 stores and claims that such a ruling has the consequence of limiting patient access to treatment options. 

The company is now filing a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Health, asking a judge to give Trulieve an exemption. 

Read more on medical marijuana from 83 Degrees: Managing symptoms: Medical marijuana emerges as growth industry in Florida

Lector Social Club for Literature and Natural Wine opens in Downtown Tampa

In the late 19th century, around the time Tampa took shape as a cigar-peddling boomtown, a new job began to appear in the city’s factories -- el lector. Seated in an elevated chair in the middle of the factory floor, lectors would read out loud from newspapers, novels, and poetry collections, providing factories workers -- who’d pooled together change to pay the lector out of their own pockets -- with both entertainment and education throughout their hot and humid workdays.

Lector Wine Shoppe and Social Club in downtown Tampa hopes to carry on that tradition and celebrate Tampa’s history as a cultural touchstone. With a focus on literature and natural wine in a chic and intimate setting, Lector offers book-and-bottle pairings, a lending library, monthly membership program, and modest residency to support artists in the city.

“Tampa has always been this landing place for artists and philosophers to travel from other countries, to stay in Tampa and Ybor before traveling up north,” says Michael Hooker, Lector founder. “We want to help remember that history and strengthen the bridge between this exchange of different artists and ideas.”

Lector Social Club will host a range of cultural events -- from literary readings to historical talks and small concerts. As a sampling of its future cultural program, the venue held a grand opening featuring local historian Manny Leto; poet Maureen McDole; and musicians Melissa and Joe Grady; among others.

Only natural wines -- wines made with little or no chemical manipulation -- are offered at Lector, including bottles from organic and biodynamic vineyards. The store is set up with sections like “Robust Romanticism” and “Noble Noir,” with the aim to provide a more welcoming atmosphere.

“A lot of people have been giving in to organic and farm-to-table food, but then they're drinking [wines made with] pesticides and chemicals,” Hooker says. “We're trying to open up peoples’ minds through the concept of natural wines through that avenue.” 

Bottles range from $7 to $67, with most wines priced around $18.

New restaurant in Tampa: The Daily Dose doesn't shy away from bold flavors

Looking for a local restaurant serving quality breakfast, brunch, and coffee? Try The Daily Dose on Gandy Boulevard, where most of the menu -- from the bread to the fondue -- is made fresh.

Serving new American cuisine, The Daily Dose offers mostly subtle variations on breakfast classics, like bread bowls, avocado toast, and egg sandwiches. Bolder dishes appear on the menu as well, including a pastrami salmon galette; crab cake and eggs Benedict; and chicken and red velvet waffles.

Opened in South Tampa in mid-January by chef Antoine Ludcene and attorney Scott Jeeves, The Daily Dose strives to set its self apart from Tampa’s breakfast scene by focusing on freshness and breakfast.

“I love to cook breakfast,” Ludcene says. “The sauces we make fresh. The dressings we make fresh. We make fresh fondue. And we make most of the breads fresh in-house.” 

Besides the grub, The Daily Dose serves an array of coffees, from straight-up espresso to mint-flavored mocha. To give their coffee extra depth, Ludcene says they smoke their beans before grinding. 

Hailing from Nigeria, Ludcene has worked in the culinary industry for over two decades, earning a degree in culinary arts from the Johnson and Wales University in Miami and working under celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck during a stint at Disney. He’s also a player in the Tampa Bay culinary scene, where he serves as executive chef and a partner at South Tampa’s Cask Social Kitchen.

He hopes to infuse The Daily Dose with his experience in the kitchen. “We're chefs,” he says. “We're a chef-driven restaurant. We refresh the kitchen and refresh the menu seasonally, every three months. We change some stuff, add new stuff, and have daily chef special.”

In November, Ludcene plans to open another location in Downtown Tampa, and hopes to launch one more in Westchase the following year. 

“Our plan is to grow,” he says. “Our goal is to open one every year.”

Of course, he can’t do that alone and Ludcene is quick to acknowledge the support he gets when he’s away. 

“My other chefs are doing a great job,” he says. “I appreciate all the hard work my team puts through. When you take care of your team, they take care of you.”

The Daily Dose is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Women's apparel boutique to open in Hyde Park Village

Hype Park Village will be getting a new women’s fashion boutique this fall. Following the success of their first store in St. Petersburg, the owners of Canvas Fashion Gallery have chosen to open a second location in South Tampa.

“We fill a void in Saint Pete that we're also hoping to fill in Tampa,” Shelby Pletcher, Canvas co-owner, tells 83 Degrees. She compared her store to Nordstrom, in that it offers a range of apparel at mid-tier price points. “There's a lot of low- and high-end shops around, but not a lot of in between.”

Canvas Fashion Gallery specializes in a variety of styles, including casual and more formal apparel from brands like BB Dakota, Show Me Your MuMu, Z Supply, and Jack, some of which haven't previously been available in Tampa. 

“And a lot of our core brands nobody else is selling in Tampa,” Pletcher said.

The new store will join the dozens of boutiques in Hype Park Village, occupying the current space of men's clothing store London-Phillips and barber shop Cambridge Club, the latter of which will move a block north. Canvas Fashion Gallery's Tampa location will feature five fitting rooms, a denim bar, and a shoe and accessory parlor, with white-walls, color-coded racks, and a gallery-like aesthetic similar to its Saint Petersburg location.

Pletcher and her business partner, Michelle Burtch, cater to busy shoppers looking for a more intimate and customer-centric shopping experience, women who may not have the time to browse large department store. To meet the needs of the ultra-active, they even offer same-day delivery to local customers. 

“The core of our business is really relationship based,” Pletcher said. “If we pride ourselves on anything, it's our relationship with our customers.”

With the new venue in Hyde Park, the owners hope to bring convenience and style to the community’s busy residents.

“Even though going into a development like Hype Park is going to be very different from our location in Saint Petersburg, it is similar in the sense that our customers are near our location,” Pletcher said. “It's a convenience factor for them…with the selection that we offer, and our eye for styling people and understanding what customers need.”

Construction starts on West Tampa senior housing development

With the opening of Riverfront Park, a brand new 25-acre waterfront park on the west bank of the Hillsborough River, and a slew of ground-breaking ceremonies across West Tampa, urban renewal and investment seems to be moving progressively westward from downtown Tampa.

A new project called the Renaissance at West River is the latest in a trend to redevelop West Tampa. Spearheaded by the Tampa Housing Authority, the Renaissance will bring a 160-unit senior housing building to the nascent neighborhood of West River. Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the Tampa Housing Authority broke ground on the development on Thursday, May 10.

“The Renaissance at West River aligns with the agency’s goal of providing quality affordable housing for our elderly citizens and families,” Lillian Stringer, Director of Public Relations for the Tampa Housing Authority, tells 83 Degrees. “Its location at the corner of Main Street and Rome Avenue is considered to be the gateway to the overall West River Neighborhood with approximately 150 acres of land along the western banks of the Hillsborough River that will serve as a recreational waterway, with families from neighborhoods at all income levels being able to enjoy the river.”

At a cost of $46 million, the six-story Renaissance will help make the West River a focal point of the city’s continued redevelopment. At its completion, the $350 million West River redevelopment will feature nearly 1,250 market-rate apartments, 96 townhouses, and over 840 affordable housing homes. An additional 90,000 square feet of retail space and 70,000 square feet of office space will be available.

The Renaissance and much of the construction to take place at West River will be on the former site of North Boulevard Homes, a public housing project long plagued by crime and poverty. Residents who were displaced by its demolition will have first right of refusal to move back to West River via services like Section 8 subsidized housing.

Baker Barrios Architects, with offices in Orlando and Tampa, designed the buildings. 

Downtown Tampa gets two more eye-catching developments

The facelift continues for Tampa’s downtown waterfront district, as two new development projects are announced this week — Riverwalk Place and a Marriott Edition hotel, both within walking distance of the Tampa Convention Center. The projects help give shape to the district’s continued redevelopment and cement the layout of tomorrow's downtown.

Rising more than 50 stories, Riverwalk Place may become the tallest tower on Florida’s west coast, with offices, restaurants, and luxury condominiums offered for between $600,000 and more than $2 million. The project, which is estimated to cost $350 million and employ over 50 workers during its construction phase, is spearheaded by Feldman Equities of Tampa and Two Roads Development of West Palm Beach.

“This will be the first new office skyscraper built in downtown Tampa in 30 years, and the first ever mixed-use tower,” Larry Feldman, President and Chief Executive of Feldman Equities, says in a statement. Feldman hopes the building becomes a social hub for downtown Tampa.

Riverwalk Place was designed by Gensler, the architectural firm responsible for the world’s second tallest building, the Shanghai Tower. Situated on the southeast corner of Ashley Drive and E Whiting Street, the building’s design was inspired by Tampa Bay’s maritime atmosphere. Its curved, sailboat-like shape will purportedly make it aerodynamic while offering most offices and residences a view of the Hillsborough River and Bay. 

“From the outset, our goal was to do more than just design another tall building,” says Shamim Ahmadzadegan, the Gensler architect behind the design. “We wanted the project to activate the Riverwalk, and contribute to the urban landscape of downtown Tampa.”

Just a couple blocks east, the planned 173-room Edition hotel could become Tampa’s first five-star resort and a gem in the crown of the proposed Water Street Tampa neighborhood. Lead by Strategic Property Partners (SPP), a partnership between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, Water Street Tampa will see 53 acres along the Ybor Chanel converted into a cultural hub, redeveloped with restaurants, green spaces, marinas, and hotels at an estimated cost of over $3 billion. 

The Edition will take a prominent position in a 26-story building across the street from Amalie Arena, at the northwest corner of Channelside Drive and Water Street. Upon its scheduled completion in 2021, it will join other hotels in the Water Street Tampa, including a 519-room JW Marriott, which is slated for completion the year prior, and the existing 727-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, which has planned renovations by SPP.

Designed by New York-based architect, Morris Adjmi, in collaboration with Florida-based architecture and planning firm, Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates, the tower will offer a rooftop pool, adjacent bar, restaurant, spa, and fitness center for guests and residents. Restaurants and retail shops will populate the ground floor.

SOHO Blind Tiger settles into walkable community

A trip to Roberto Torres’ South Howard Avenue coffee shop is an average 7- to 12-minute walk for many of his customers. When they arrive, they experience the aroma and flavor of coffee from afar: the floral and tea-like favors of coffee from Panama, the citrusy tones of coffee from Brazil, the nutty taste of coffee from Columbia, and the fruitiness of coffee from Rwanda.

This is Blind Tiger Cafe, part of a walkable community on both sides of Howard Avenue in South Tampa. The floor, with its map of Tampa and its neighborhoods is like a “love letter” to the city, acknowledges the native of Panama, who moved to Tampa 12 years ago.

Inspired by the speakeasy, another name for blind tiger, Torres opened his first cafe in Ybor City in late 2014. His goal was simple: meet Seventh Avenue’s need for a coffee shop.

He soon learned high walkability, high density and a neighborhood feel was a winning formula for the rest of Tampa too. So he and partners opened shops in Seminole Heights, the Tampa Bay Times building downtown, and more recently, South Tampa. His 17,000-square-foot shop at 934 S. Howard Ave. features a polished concrete floor with a map by Robert Horning of Tampa Murals.

“We wish to be sort of like this destination in Tampa,” explains Torres, who is partnering with Luis Montanez and Christopher Findeisen in the cafe and Black & Denim, a Tampa apparel firm. “This is where we got our start.”

The Blind Tiger Cafe also features a bold tiger on the wall by Tampa’s Pep Rally Inc. It offers traditional coffee drinks like cappuccino, along with specialty drinks. “For example, we have this one, Expresso Bombon -- two ounces of expresso over two ounces of sweet and condensed milk,” he says. “When you mix it, it’s like liquid candy.”

Blind Tiger, which is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, also serves up breakfast sandwiches, turkey and veggie sandwiches, salads, smoothies, beer and wine and cheese plates.

Located in The Morrison building, Torres' latest cafe houses a 300-square-foot haberdashery. The cafe is partnering with Brent Kraus in The Ella Bing Haberdashery, featuring bowties and neckties, suspenders, leather goods, clothes and shoes, with 10 percent of the proceeds going toward The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

I think there’s a lot of synergy,” Torres says. “A lot of people that go say ‘oh it’s a shop’ end up being customers from our shop and vice versa.”

The Morrison, located near the Lee Selmon Expressway, includes 48 apartment units in the complex, with two-bedroom, two-bath apartments from 1309 to 1320 square feet listed at $2,500 a month. It offers perks such as bike racks, covered parking, fire pits, an elevator, a fitness center and community entertainment area, pool, sauna and rooftop sundeck.

Joining the Blind Tiger Cafe in the business space are the restaurant Zoës Kitchen, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine; Club Pilates; and Bulla Gastrobar, a fun/casual meeting space inspired by Spanish tapas restaurants.

What’s next for the Blind Tiger Cafe? More coffee stops, of course. “We don’t know exactly where,” Torres says.


Channel Club, new grocery opening soon in downtown Tampa

A transformation is underway in the Channel District just south of Ybor City and east of Tampa’s downtown. Dominating the landscape is the 23-story Channel Club, a $90 million mixed-use project easily visible from the Selmon Expressway.

The roof went on this month, and construction at the 37,000 square feet complex is on track for leasing, beginning in June.

“We hope to have the first folks moving in in late September of this year and open up the Publix at the same time,” says Ken Stoltenberg, co-director of Mercury Advisors, developer of the project.

“It’s an exciting time to be there,” says Stoltenberg, whose firm is also developing the neighboring Grand Central at Kennedy condominiums, which rises some 15 stories high.

The Tampa Bay Rays on Feb. 9 announced plans to move from Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg to Ybor City, a move expected to draw more traffic to the nearby Channel District. A 14-acre site bounded by 4th Avenue on the north, Adamo Drive on the south, Channelside Drive on the west and 15th Street on the east had been identified by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan in October.

Just a few blocks away, construction also is underway at the $152.6 million Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, an anchor at the $3 billion Strategic Property Partnersdevelopment at Water Street downtown. The 11-story building across from the Amalie Arena is expected to attract at least 2,200 students, faculty and staff to the 53-acre project.

Construction began last September at Channel Club at 1105 E. Twiggs St. in this former warehouse district near Port Tampa Bay, which is transitioning into one of the Tampa Bay Area's hottest urban scenes led by a residential neighborhood that is increasingly home to start-up companies, art venues and locally-owned restaurants, pubs and shops. The complex features 324 apartment units, a restaurant, fitness center, and hair salon, making it a “truly walkable community,” Stoltenberg says.

“You have everything,” he says. “Anything you normally would run around and do for errands on a Saturday morning, you can walk,” he says.

Half of the first floor will be occupied by Publix.

At the mixed-use Grand Central at Kennedy, located at 1208 E. Kennedy Blvd., Crunch Fitness recently opened its 22,000 square foot center. With Quality Distribution Inc. and Saint Leo University, Tampa Campus, the facility is 90 percent occupied, he says.

The $145 million development includes 392 condominiums, around 80,000 square feet of office space, and 108 square feet of retail.

Grand Central’s East and West buildings were built in 2007, but the 2008 recession interrupted sales. In 2016, the property was approved for 3- to 5-percent financing rates through the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae. The rates were applied when buyers made the units their primary residence.

Also coming to the neighborhood are Hampton Inn and Home2Suites, a dual-brand Liberty Group project under construction at the southeast corner of Kennedy and Meridian Avenue. It is expected to attract cruise ship passengers embarking from Port Tampa Bay and guests at the new USF College of Medicine.


Luxury high-rise under construction in downtown St. Pete

Construction has begun on the $80 million Icon Central mixed-used development in downtown St. Petersburg, which will include an upscale 368-unit high-rise apartment complex and upgrade of the 1926 Union Trust Bank building.

Its 15-story luxury apartment complex at 801 Central Ave. will literally stand out amid the area’s existing mid-rises – inside and outside. It will feature amenities such as an outdoor movie lawn, a club lounge with game simulator room, and indoor Zen garden.

“We studied the market and we’ve included these top tier amenities that will appeal to both the baby boomers and the millennials," says Jessica Suarez, VP of development for the Miami-based Related Group, the project developer.

It will incorporate the arts through rotating art exhibits, local artist displays, an art and wine tasting room, plus art in the courtyard surrounding the pool, she adds.

“We’ve taken it to another level,” Suarez says. “The art element in St. Pete is significant.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony, scheduled at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, is expected to draw local officials and team members. 

Work began in December. “We’ve cleared the site and we’re doing foundations,” she says.

The project is the latest in The Related Group’s Icon brand, known for luxury highrise rentals. It includes Icon Harbor Island apartments in Tampa, plus Icon projects in Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

Icon Central will include studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units with monthly rents expected to range from $1600 to $4000; some on the top floors will have water views. Leasing is anticipated in mid-2019.

The high-rise, being built in a contemporary federal architecture style, also will include a spa with steam and sauna, a pool courtyard with a European-style heated pool, and a summer grilling kitchen.

The intimate, outdoor movie lawn will have a large screen on the side of the building, which can be used for movies or projections during outdoor classes.

Related seeks to create a community around activities for its residents. “That [Icon Central] is a community for us. We’re constantly involving them,” she says. “It’s different. You don’t see anything like that in St. Pete.”

The residential complex will be connected to the bank building with a multi-use building with retail, residential and parking space. The first two levels will be primarily cast stone, with tan stucco above. The bank is being renovated with stonework, cornices and other features reflecting the historical era.

What we envision there is more of a high-end -- boutique stores with lounge and meeting space, or a food hall,” she says.

The interior of the bank, as well as an 1980s addition, have been demolished. “As construction progresses, we will start marketing the retail,” she explains.

The retail space is expected to be completed around mid-2019.

What attracted the developer to St. Petersburg was the continued growth and development, similar to more successful areas in the Miami area that have been revitalized, she says.

Icon Central has been in the works for three years.

The Related Group is active in the Tampa market, where move-ins have begun at Icon Harbor Island, a 340-unit luxury development. Construction is continuing at River Manorwalk, an eight story, 400-unit complex being built on the site of the former Tampa Tribune downtown, with leasing and move-ins planned in mid-2019.

Related also is developing the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community and partnering with Tampa Housing Authority in its West River redevelopment involving 150 acres on the west bank of the Hillsborough River on the edges of downtown.


Market to anchor Downtown Clearwater Gateway revitalization

As plans to revitalize Clearwater’s waterfront and downtown move forward, focus has also turned toward the city’s Downtown Gateway.

In September, the Clearwater City Council approved conceptual plans for Mercado, a public market that will be developed on a triangular swath of land where Cleveland Street meets Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The plaza will include space where small businesses and other vendors can take root and an open area for community events, says Chuck Lane, Assistant Director, Economic Development & Housing.

“It’s going to be a space where people can interact with each other,” he says. This ranges from serving as a venue for farmer’s markets, art fairs and other public events to a space where individuals “can just sit down and read a newspaper.”

Mercado will also cater to the largely Hispanic population of the neighborhood, Lane adds. Around one-third of those living in the area are foreign born, “largely Hispanic,” he says. “Mercado is intended to embrace these individuals and be a space where people can feel comfortable in that environment.”

Gabe Parra, community redevelopment manager, says the conversation surrounding this project and property is seven-years in the making.

“We want to create a gathering space where the neighborhood can convene and feel like they belong,” he says.

The project will also build off a streetscape project designed to enhance Cleveland Street between Missouri Avenue and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. These improvements will transform Cleveland Street into a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly thoroughfare as development and interest in downtown Clearwater grows.

Over the past year, the city has worked with the Project for Public Spaces to determine the best look for Mercado, Lane says. The company, which led a feasibility study on the project, created a conceptual rendering of what the plaza might look like.

In “a good faith” move, AIT Consulting, the company behind the streetscape project, took these designs a step further, he adds. The company saw the need for improvements in the Downtown Gateway and added elements to the PPS design, including structures built utilizing storage containers. AIT has not been hired by the city for the project, Lane says.

Lane is working with “key players” in the area, including a number of local businesses, to create the final design for Mercado. He expects these conversations will match much of what was said in the initial public hearings.

The streetscape project will begin by March, he says. After that, construction can move forward on Mercado and he anticipates that this time next year, the community can expect to see the first events organized in the area.

From blank to swank: Gin Joint opens in Downtown Tampa

Perhaps the most exciting changes to our urban fabric come in the form of newly-established uses in brand new spaces, a.k.a. placemaking. Rather than swapping one bar for another in a given strip, it’s actual growth in our range of options -- for eating, drinking and entertaining each other. 

In Tampa, good examples of placemaking include Ulele, Fresh Kitchen and Le Meridien Hotel, among many others. All are now counted as focal points for our daily lives, in spots where there was minimal activity before.

CW’s Gin Joint joins that exclusive list by opening in the ground floor of The Franklin Exchange Building (633 North Franklin Street) in Downtown Tampa. Already it’s hopping, thanks to a retro/chic interior overhaul, significant list of craft cocktails, and impressive French-inspired menu, including an early favorite: portobello mushroom fries. 

Live piano performances 

“CW” is Carolyn Wilson, owner of The Wilson Company, a property management and development firm with 30 years of history in the region, including headline projects like The New York Yankees’ Legends Field.

And while contracts like managing the USF CAMLS building keep the business running, Wilson has bigger ideas for how to improve the urban landscape of Tampa, like turning The Vault into more than just a historic bank building.

As owner of most of the 600 block of Franklin Street, including The Vault, she is in the rare position to make decisions like curating events that attract activity, even if they’re not wildly profitable.

Every month, Second Screen Cult Cinema hosts its pop-up film series in The Vault, thanks in part to a sponsorship by The Wilson Company. For example, it was standing room only for a recent showing of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998).

Every Halloween season, The Vault of Souls opens to guests with the promise of “an elegant evening of fear,” though all bookings are finished for 2017.

CW’s Gin Joint is just the latest effort to enhance a sense of place (activity, life, engagement) where five or 10 years ago, little went on past 5 o’clock in downtown.

The quality and attention to detail inside is striking, and the drinks are delicious. After a movie at The Tampa Theatre or concert in Curtis Hixon Park, stop by for a classy cocktail and tip your hat to CW and her team for bringing something so charming and authentic to Downtown Tampa.

Sea Drift Ales & Lagers joins local brew scene

Five years after opening Largo’s Barley Mow Brewing Company, founders Jay and Colleen Dingman have launched a new beer brand -- Sea Drift Ales & Lagers.

“We are looking at a fresh start on the distribution end of things,” Jay Dingman says.

While Barley Mow and the company’s restaurant, The Raven, which also features a brewery, will continue to exist, Sea Drift is “basically a complete rebrand,” he adds.

The intention of Sea Drift is to distribute to a bigger market, he says. Though Barley Mow beers have been well-received, “the darker theme didn’t always translate well in the market.”

Sea Drift embodies the “Florida nautical lifestyle,” Dingman says. “They’re more water focused, beachy, and kind of light.” Initially it will offer three beers: Sea Drift Pills, All Hands IPA and Dark Harbor Mocha Stout.

“It’s much lower alcohol content, more approachable stuff than we’ve done in the past,” he says.

Dingman says they consider Sea Drift “kind of a do-over.” 

Barley Mow beers sold well throughout the county, but “the further away from home, the harder it is to sell beer.” He hopes Sea Drift will have a greater draw throughout Pinellas County, and eventually, beyond.

Since before Sea Drift Ales & Lagers launched, the companies have ceased brewing Barley Mow beers for distribution. But Barley Mow can still be purchased on draft at The Raven and the brewery in Largo. Because a developer bought that property last year, however, the brewery will be moving from its current location in April 2018, Dingman says. That’s when Barley Mow’s lease ends with no possibility for renewal.

Though, he’s uncertain where Barley Mow might go, the lease ending is a blessing in disguise. “We outgrew that property on West Bay three years ago,” he says. “A lot of people are worried that we might close. But that’s not the case. We’re definitely going to go somewhere else. Where we’re going? We don’t know.”

In the meantime, the focus is on Sea Drift. Dingman says the company will open a tasting room for its newest beers at its Largo production facility by the fourth quarter of this year.

“This is a new chapter for us,” he says. “It’s definitely been an adventure the last couple of years.”

World Market’s first Tampa Bay Area store opens in Clearwater

Cost Plus World Market is welcoming shoppers to its newest store at U.S. 19  and Sunset Point Road in Clearwater. 

The 10,000-square-feet shop took over the space of a former Publix supermarket in Sunset Point 19 plaza and features a variety of eclectic housewares, furniture, home décor and food from around the globe.

This is the chain’s first store in the Tampa Bay area. The company currently plans to open a second location in Wesley Chapel, says Kathy Sweet, store supervisor. It’s also one of the first new big box retailers to enter the Tampa market since the 2008 recession, she adds.

Currently, the Cost Plus World Market chain operates around 350 stores throughout the country, 12 of them in Florida, Sweet says. The flagship store is located in San Francisco, CA.

The Clearwater store held its grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony with local officials and Clearwater Chamber of Commerce members on August 3. Sweet says they were “slammed” those first few days, as well as the following weekend, when the store welcomed Nicole Curtis, blogger, author and host of HGTV’s Rehab Addict

“It was super busy. There were hundreds of people in line to see her. When I came in at 12:30 the line went all the way down to CVS,” Sweet says. “[Curtis] uses a lot of our items in her home design blog and on her show. So she’s a real World Market advocate.”

City Manager Michael Delk says the store “is a nice addition to the plaza.” 

He adds, “They’re a really good tenant. They’re new to the market and have a certain cache.”

Other tenants in the plaza include Barnes & Noble, Old Navy and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Sweet says a Hobby Lobby is moving into the shopping center down the road, as well as a Spirit Halloween shop this fall.
This bodes well for the plaza, which has seen tenants leave and a drop in shoppers in recent years, Delk says.

“If Hobby Lobby is coming in, that’s a really nice mix,” he says. “I’d consider that a shopping center landing on its feet. Those are Class A tenants.”

Sweet adds, “We’re getting a lot of thank yous from our neighbors for bringing in business.”

Inkwood Books gets ready to move to Tampa Heights, Tampa

Thanks to its new neighbor, Tampa Heights’ storied history just added another chapter -- endless chapters, actually. Inkwood Books, Tampa’s only independent book store for new books, is moving in to 1809 N. Tampa Street after more than 20 years at the corner of Armenia and Platt. It will be across the street from the Hall on Franklin, a restaurant collective set to open soon.

“We have loved our home, and we have gotten a lot of love here from the community,” says owner Stefani Beddingfield, who bought Inkwood in 2013. “But I think we are moving to a place where there is a passion for local things, where the love of local seems to be a little more viable and important to the people.”

Inkwood isn’t moving its inventory until January but will be holding events at the new site starting as early as September, when the store hosts author Leigh Bardugo, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Six Crows, Crooked Kingdom and the Grisha Trilogy. 

With a bigger, more open space and a location in the heart of reinvigorated urban area, Inkwood is hoping to attract many more intriguing authors to Tampa, building the city’s literary reputation in the publishing world as a sought-after destination. Lindsay Pingel, the store’s recently designated Events Coordinator, will be in charge of enhancing Inkwood’s national standing, but won’t be ignoring the surrounding area, working to foster relationships within the city limits as well as outside of them.

“Lindsey wants to reach out to the community to establish better connections here, locally, taking authors into the schools for example,” Beddingfield says. 

As the store makes its physical transition, Inkwood will be revamping its online presence too, offering a new website and outputting its newsletter on Tuesdays and Fridays in a modified format. In fact, the store just released its first edition under Shelf Awareness with the title: “Change is good, Inkreaders.”
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