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.