Video: High school hockey garnering support around Tampa Bay

Ice hockey has become one of the fastest growing high school sports in the Tampa Bay area.

There are 12 teams in the Florida High School Hockey Association’s Lightning Conference, which includes schools from across the region.

Ed de la Paz, president of the conference, attributes much of its recent success to the support of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

“The Lightning have been wonderful,” de la Paz said. “(They’re) really giving us that hockey perspective.”

Dan Bubley, head coach at Steinbrenner High in Lutz, which competes in the Lightning Conference, has been coaching in Florida for more than 12 years.

At first, Bubley said, it was difficult to find players.

“We used to have to go and drive around the Northdale area to find kids who skated on rollerblades,” he said.

Things have improved. Bubley predicted they will have up to 50 kids trying out for one team before the season starts.

“With all due respect, I think you have to recognize what we are: a non-traditional sport in a sunshine state,” Bubley said.

Bubley said he believes the next step is for the sport to become sanctioned, or “soft sanctioned,” as he put it, by the Florida High School Athletic Association, which sets the guidelines as the governing body for high school sports in the state.

For game times and more information about the FHSHA, visit Select games are also televised on Bright House Sports Network, Ch. 47.


Tarpon Springs church commemorates annual Epiphany celebration


Tarpon Springs is not your typical town. Known for its world-famous Sponge Docks, Tarpon harbors the largest Greek community within the U.S.

“In Tarpon Springs, we’re basically one big Greek family; we grew up together, go to church together, we fight and we argue, but at the end of the day, we all end up partying together,” Tarpon resident Kosta Pstefelis said.

In the heart of Tarpon Springs lies the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which commemorates the annual Epiphany celebration.

Pstefelis calls it “our way of showing off Greek Orthodoxy to the world.”

Pstefelis and fellow resident Niko Mahairas were two of the 50 teens to dive for the cross at this year’s event.

“It’s something everyone should experience, religious or not. The event is always a good time for everyone,” Mahairas said.

Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, 50 Greek boys, ages 16 through 18, dive into the water in hopes of retrieving a cross. Retrieval of the cross signifies a year of good luck for that individual.

“Everyone wants to be the kid that catches the cross,” Pstefelis said.

Luckily, this year he was able to do just that, describing it as a “once in a lifetime experience, something my family needed.”

Tampa-area Buddhist temple offers authentic Thai market

Add a new outing to your Sunday routine. The Wat Tampa, a Buddhist Thai temple, hosts its Sunday market each week, offering a variety of authentic Thai foods along with a wide selection of fresh produce and plants.

“There’s a little bit of everything for you to enjoy here,” said Terry Stephens, one of the volunteers. “They have plants and vegetables here, all kinds of fruits.”

The market also serves free coffee and tea. The temple volunteers prepare the Thai food themselves, and you’re guaranteed to never leave hungry.

“People love to come here because they love the food, and it’s cheap,”said Malai Suttikul, a volunteer.

Most of the food only costs about $5 a serving, and all proceeds are used to maintain the temple and market.

The Sunday Market started in 1993 with two tables. Now, the market flourishes with about 30 tables, a garden of potted plants and flowers, and tents offering different foods, such as fried chicken.

In 2011, the market added a seawall and benches for relaxing beside the Palm River.

The Sunday Market is open from 9:30 a.m.- 1 p.m. and is located at 5306 Palm River Rd.

Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery showcases local talent

Bonnie Bratby-Carey is doing something that not many people get to do. She is living her dream as the art director at the Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery.

“The Gallery has been open since 2003,” Bratby-Carey said. “For a number of years, it was called the Progress Energy Art Gallery. After they were no longer involved with The Gallery, we changed the name and the branding to the Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery.”

Members of the community know it simply as “The Gallery.” Jose Cardenas is an art collector that spends half of his time here in Florida and the other half in his hometown of Houston.

“I did my search and found this little jewel, like Bonnie the art director calls it,” Cardenas said. “I was attracted to it because it exposes all these local artists that want to tell their (stories) about their hometown.”

This month’s exhibit, “Florida: Adventures in Paradise,” showcases artwork that features the beautiful scenes and landscapes of Florida.

“We really started the year off with a bang,” Bratby-Carey said. “This exhibit has been enormously popular with the public.”

Patrons like Cardenas have come to love the monthly themed exhibits. They are constantly coming back to see what The Gallery has to offer.

“I bought from Patricia Watt, a local artist,” Cardenas said. “I’m actually really excited about hanging these pieces in my house and just having guests over and showing them [that] this is the local art that we have here.”

The Gallery also offers poetry readings, art workshops and other events to encourage community involvement.

Partiers don pirate costumes, celebrate history during Tampa’s Gasparilla parade

The Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa’s yearly parade, takes place in late January and is hosted by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and the city of Tampa.

According to legend, Gasparilla was a mythical Spanish pirate captain who operated in Southwest Florida. The event is considered a tradition to the area, yet not everyone knows about it or attends.

“I’m really excited about it, because out of the four years that I’ve been here at the University of South Florida, I have not participated in the Tampa historical event of Gasparilla,” Reggie Brown, former USF student and Broward County resident, said before this year’s celebration.

Gasparilla holds a reputation for the immense amount of alcohol provided, but it is also looked at as a fairy tale parade. Celebrants dressed as pirates are celebrated as royalty and flaunt their costumes in the streets.

In the past, public intoxication has been one of the only issues the public faced with the parade. Many didn’t expect the same problem this year due to the high level of security being provided.

The parade is full of “krewes,” or members of the same float, who share many of the same things in common. Together, the krewes prepare months in advance for the day. Most krewes consider themselves different from the rest.

“We believe that every day should be cherished, hence why our motto is seize the moment,” said Claudia White, member of The Krewe of Ann Jeffrey. “We’re not like other krewes; we actually enjoy the moment.”

Regardless of the reasons people come out to celebrate, Gasparilla is one of the largest parades in Florida and is constantly looking to expand.


MOSI Mess Fests combine science, crafts

Science gets an art-themed makeover at this month’s Mess Fest, hosted by the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). Hands-on stations such as paint bottle pendulums, paint balloon slingshots and marble painting are all designed to teach children scientific concepts while allowing them to get messy and have fun. Media Relations Specialist Megan Haskins says the event is a creative way to reach these children.

“Those kids may block that information out in schools, but here they’re getting their hands in it, and they’re really starting to enjoy and learn about science,” Haskins said.

Sara Turner, MOSI director of guest experience and orchestrator of Mess Fest, says the future of the event is bright.

“I want bigger explosions, bigger messes. I want people to know, like, when you think of MOSI you think of Mess Fest,” Turner said.

Turner relies on her science army known as the S.T.E.A.M (Science. Technology. Engineering. Art. Math) Punks to make Mess Fest run smoothly.

S.T.E.A.M. Punk Trey Poulos says that a S.T.E.A.M. Punk’s duty “is to bring science alive” for the children and families in attendance.

Throughout the afternoon, Turner organizes and hosts science shows that use materials too dangerous for children’s stations but too interesting to leave out of Mess Fest. These shows use science to make dish soap bubbles full of liquid nitrogen, turn Mentos and Coke into rockets, mix corn starch and water into slime, and conduct experiments with dry ice.

MOSI plans to hold its next Mess Fest Saturday, March 14, starting at 11 a.m., with a theme of Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday. The Mess Fest is included in museum admission.

Pasco schools superintendent: Asbestos forces closure of historic Moore-Mickens Education Center

DADE CITY- Two years after the first attempt to close down Moore-Mickens Education Center, Superintendent of Pasco County schools Kurt Browning is determined to follow through with these plans in 2015.

“The situation has changed,” Browning said. “The facts have changed, I am convinced. I said it two years ago; I’ll say it today: When you have a facility that old and there is the presence of asbestos in that facility, I’ve got mama students, I’ve got new babies, I’ve got staff, administration and teachers, and every time they go to move a ceiling tile or drill a hole in the wall, we run the risk of introducing asbestos into the environment.”

Opened in the late 1930s, the Moore-Mickens Education Center was one of the first schools for black children in that community.

“Moore-Mickens Education Center was begun by a man in the Dade City community, Mr. Moore, although he was not himself educated,” said Nancy Guss,principal of Moore-Mickens. “He wanted to bring education to the black community of Dade City. This is the memory of the Dade City black community educational experience; it is the beginning of them moving onward.”

Browning said he tried to keep emotion out of his decision and explained he had to put the welfare of the students first.

Programs at the facility will be relocated by August to nearby Pasco and Zephyrhills high schools and the Irvin Education Center.

“I get it,” Browning said. “It troubles me that I have to get to this point, but as I’ve been told, I’ve been superintendent a little over two years, this building did not get run down in two years. This has been an ongoing issue for probably the last three superintendents, I bet easily the last 15 years.

Letters about the relocation have been sent to parents.

Video: Patel Conservatory reaches 10th year of excellence

The new year means new beginnings but also the 10th anniversary of the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, a place that produces world-class musicians.

“What the conservatory brings is an overall holistic view: a combination of music, dance, and theater combined with a large performing-arts center,” said Brad Casey, managing director of the conservatory. “It’s one of the few arrangements of its kind in the country that really brings all of that together in one place and allows us to leverage that excellence.”

The conservatory has access to any of the five main theaters at the Straz Center while offering more than 100 different classes in dance, theater and music.

“The conservatory’s impact on the community has been pretty remarkable,” Casey said. “We’ve really elevated the level of arts education that didn’t exist anywhere before.”

The conservatory is a part of the Straz Center, which is the largest performing-arts center in the Southeastern U.S.

One program of note at the conservatory is the Next Generation Ballet (NGB) program. In 2014, seven American students were accepted into the Royal Ballet School in London. Of the seven, two were from the Patel Conservatory.

“I think that the training is really, really great,” said senior ballet student Alexandria Marks. “To be able to spend all day doing ballet is just something that is wonderful.”

The Patel Conservatory has also classes for students between the ages of 3 and 80. To find out more information on how to join, visit


Hillsborough County hopes to draw more filmmaking projects

Film in the Tampa Bay area? Really? Tampa is not known as a filmmaking hub, particularly when it comes to big-budget motion pictures. Interestingly enough, however, two major motion pictures are slated to shoot this spring.

“If you were to drop a pin in the middle of Tampa and draw a 30-mile circumference around the city, you’d find the community is incredibly diverse,” said Tyler Martinolich, production manager at the Hillsborough County Film Office.

Martinolich finds this to be advantageous for current and aspiring filmmakers. He cites the blue skies, the absence of violent Northern-like storms and the balmy weather overall as great reasons to film in the region. But that is not all.

“We’re essentially a blank slate,” Martinolich said. “Whatever we want to make Tampa look like, we can make it look like. And that is of great value to just about any production.”

But making a film is expensive, and the industry is highly competitive.

“The tax incentives need to be comparable to that of Georgia’s and to that of North Carolina’s,” said Ryan Terry, University of South Florida Graduate Assistant and filmmaker. “If I’m a big-time filmmaker, I would get much more bang for my buck if I just went to Georgia instead of Florida.”

Martinolich said if the Florida Legislature, which will rule on the topic of incentives in May, refuses to back incentive proposals like they have done in the past, it is back to square one.

“We’ll have to showcase our area as much as we can and rely primarily on local incentives to get anything to work,” Martinolich said.

Martinolich said there is a good indication lawmakers will rule in favor of incentives.

Area landmark, Tampa Pitcher Show delivers vintage movie-going experience

What was this place? The building can’t be seen from the street. Was I walking into a funhouse? Was this something out of Alice in Wonderland? Where did they get this sign? I had never experienced such a place. Perhaps I was too young to remember.

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The street sign on Dale Mabry Highway looked simple, and it listed had movies and beers.  As I approached, however, it was quiet. Walking through the foyer, I saw  a lone seat through transparent glass where one person could take money and dispense tickets. There were posters of The Godfather and Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the walls. It had that familiar movie-theater smell that our parents told us about. I continued through, wondering what I would find on the other side.

The small hallway that leads to the bar, comedy area and theater was deceiving. The theater to the left was big and well-designed. There were rows of leather seats and tabletops sporting menus. You could see the bar if you looked back and catch a glimpse of the projector room. The stage sits in front of the screen where The Rocky Horror Picture Show by the Cheap Little Punks took place. Burlesque shows also grace this stage.

Walking out of the theater, you see a small stage with a microphone, for anyone willing to try improv comedy. The living room is the best description for this area due to the chairs, televisions and bathrooms grouped around the small wooden platform. Artwork adorned the walls to make the room seem cozy and romantic.

Holiday lights decorate the mirror behind the stage, giving onlookers a familiar holiday greeting. The decor showed that the Tampa Pitcher Show was ready for the holidays. As for the staff, friendliness is a virtue.

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After touring the upstairs projection area, filled with old film reels and stacks of movie posters, you could see the artifacts of being in business for 33 years. However, that is the theater’s appeal. It’s not focused on being flashy or charging 20 dollars per ticket. It’s changing with the times to digital film and providing a friendly atmosphere to watch a movie and have a meal.

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Community gardens sprout up across Tampa Bay, reflect growing interest in locally grown food

Photo By: Ariana Matos
Photo By: Ariana Matos

Recently, the popularity of organic, locally grown and sustainable foods has many USF students wondering where the food they eat comes from.

According to the USDA, organic food sales nationwide have increased by 20 percent since 1990. Chains such as Publix and Walmart are selling organic items, and produce stands touting sustainable farmed crops are sprouting up all over Tampa.

This isn’t an accident; the USDA cited that people with a secondary education sought out and bought more organic foods than those without a college degree, which makes the Tampa area prime real estate for health-conscious consumers.

All of this demand comes with a price tag. Traditionally, locally grown products are more expensive than their conventionally grown counterparts, which has prompted the habitually broke college student to seek out other, more reasonably priced sources.

Some students buy their organic foods from big chain supermarkets but more commonly popular, and cheaper avenues for local produce are the community gardens that surround USF.

The coffee shop Felicitous has had a community garden for two and a half years. Started by a former employee, the garden consists of six moderately sized planters filled with everything from carrots to chamomile.

“Initially, we were only planting herbs,” longtime employee and USF student Andrew Sestok said. “Now we have carrots, broccoli, kale, mustard greens, lettuce, and we could eat all of this now.”

Having no experience other than  gardening, Sestok and his co-workers tried their hand at creating an inexpensive and productive garden for anyone to benefit from.

“I’d like to implement a portion of the plants into our food, and I would also like to advocate that people come and just take some,” Sestok said.

The garden is built from scrap wood and old pallets. Because the wood is not treated with the chemicals that prevent weather damage, eventually it will rot and an overhaul will be necessary, but Sestok thinks it is the only way to ensure no undesired chemicals affect the consumer.

“Someone that is really interested in organic and homegrown (food) is typically intolerant of even the slightest contingency, so there are patrons and friends that would not accept it if we did not take such precautions as we do,” Sestok said.

For four years, Kitty Wallace has been the coordinator for the Tampa Heights Community Garden, just south of Hillsborough Avenue, about 10 miles from the USF Tampa campus.

In her work cultivating gardens with a diverse group of people, she has found that organic farming is important for many because of the growing interest people have in their food, from what chemicals are involved in its cultivation to genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

“I think the GMO issue has really kicked concern (into) action for people wanting to be sure their food is grown from seeds that haven’t been affected by genetic modification,” Wallace said. “People are very concerned about some of the effects that we are seeing now in pesticides and herbicides.”

Wallace connects this with the fact that many patrons of the Tampa Heights Community Garden are just starting to have children. Many don’t want to take chances with GMOs and would rather eat local instead.

“We have a lot of young families,” Wallace said. “This past year we had four babies born in the families of the garden. We have almost 200 people gardening with us right now.”

As environmentally conscious students settle down and begin having families, instilling in their children a passion for locally grown foods becomes important. Christopher Hawthorne, 26, education program director at Sweetwater Organic Community Farm, is charged with teaching them.

“I started as a part-time farmer and I was interested in starting field trips,” Hawthorne said.  “In the following season our education program manager ended up moving away and recommending me to take her spot, so I now manage the field trip program as well as the summer farm camp.”

Hawthorne seeks to give children more knowledge surrounding responsible farming practices, like companion planting versus the use of chemical pesticides.

“We’re also interested in teaching kids about wild edible plants and exposing them to what’s in the Florida environment, and it’s a real delight to show kids that you can eat a flower or something you think of as just a weed. It really opens their minds to the experience of food beyond just going to the grocery store.”

With the more and more produce stands popping up all around Tampa, local gardens seem like they are here to stay. If one has not experienced growing and eating food from scratch, the process of paying for a plot of dirt may seem absurd, but one common thread seems to persist: local gardens effectively foster the sense of community their name promises.

“Many of the gardeners have joined the garden because they like the idea of being able to garden with others. … You get to know the gardener that is next to you and people come together,” Wallace said. “There is a lot of community spirit that is developed through the garden.”

Tampa furniture store strives to maintain values and history

In the semi-basement of the former Santaella Cigar Factory, hundreds of office chairs are stacked up where tobacco and leaves were once stored to keep them dry and cool. Dim daylight shines through the small basement windows on the north side of the building, barely illuminating the numerous desks that almost touch the low ceiling. Office cabinets block the old factory’s conveyor belt that used to transport the raw material for the hand-made cigars.

The Ellis-Van Pelt family bought the old cigar factory  on North Armenia Avenue in 1997 to store and sell new and used office furniture. Since then, the family has been committed to preserving the 110-year-old building and using it to run an honest and reliable family business.

“Our secret and biggest asset is trust,” said the general manager and founder of the company, 86-year-old Gray Ellis. “We are easy to deal with, so once we have somebody in here, they’ll come back over and over again.”

When the Ellis-Van Pelt family was looking for a bigger storage area, the four-story former cigar factory did not seem to be the right fit for their business.

“When I first saw the building, I thought that there was no way we could afford it,” Gray Ellis said, laughing. “But it turned out the be an easy buy.”

Ellis-Van Pelt Inc. was founded in 1979 and has been family-owned for four generations. In a building that used to house approximately 1,000 workers, the furniture store today has a staff of about nine people, which includes the founder’s daughter and two sons. But Gray Ellis and his wife, Joann Ellis, are not completely sure of that number.

“We are three sitting right here,” Joann Ellis interjected, referring to her husband, herself and their longtime employee Sue Dortch, when Gray Ellis tried to count the company’s workforce.

Dortch has been a family friend since she was a little girl. She remembers meeting Joann Ellis’s mother in church for the first time. After working at a corporate job, she started helping out at the company’s office.

“I’ve always kind of stuck around,” Dortch said.

In the company’s office, time seems to have come to a standstill. Three dusty wooden chairs, hand-made and left behind by former cigar factory workers, are propped on a pedestal. Shelves hold memorabilia and pictures of the cigar factory from earlier years. The family is especially proud of a picture showing New York Yankees baseball player Babe Ruth, who used to come to the factory to buy his cigars.

“We are trying to maintain the character of the building as close to the original as possible,” Gray Ellis said.

The building’s primarily wooden architecture has mostly been left untouched, Bubba Ellis, the company’s president and one of the sons, pointed out. The cigar factory’s freight elevator and stairways are still in their original state.

“It is sad how much went away in Tampa and how many cigar factories have been torn down,” Dortch said. “You learn a lot when you work in this building.”

The family decided not to add the building to the National Register of Historic Places. Instead, they try to take care of the building as much as they can.

“It would cost a fortune to maintain the building according to their standards,” Gray Ellis said.

The former factory requires constant maintenance, and the family added beams to further support the building’s framework. They also have to make sure no rain will come in through the windows.

“With older buildings, the cost is double as it is,” Joann Ellis said.

The family only uses the basement and the first floor for their furniture storage. When rent for studios in Ybor City started rising, many artists were looking for other options. Only a year after the family bought the building, the first artist moved his studio to the former cigar factory.

“Word of mouth filled this place up quickly,” Gray Ellis said. “We didn’t plan this.”

Since the third and fourth floor were originally left as open space, artists were able to request how big they wanted each studio to be. Now, those floors are divided into several studios, which are occupied by approximately 40 artists. This part of the building has come to be known as the Santaella Studios for the Arts.

“When I looked for a studio, I couldn’t find anything I liked,” said Kerry Vosler, one of the artists in residence. “The rent is reasonable, and I could individualize it and make it my own.”

Vosler has always liked the neighborhood and the old building. Since she moved her studio to the old factory building in 2010, she has built a relationship with the Ellis-Van Pelt family.

“I’ve always loved the fact that they rented to artists,” she said. “The family is very supportive, and they all attend every art event that we have in the building.”

Today, the third and fourth floors are completely occupied by artists for years in advance. The owners even have artists on a waiting list in case a studio becomes available.

“We can provide them with a space to pursue their art passion besides their regular work,” Gray Ellis said.

Due to the age and condition of the building, the owners cannot rent space to every artist. No sculptors are allowed, since dust comes with the creation of their art. Potters are banned since their art requires too much heat and energy. Artists also must keep noise to a minimum.

“That would be too much for the building,” Dortch said, laughing.

While Gray and Joann Ellis are still actively working in the family business, they transferred the ownership of the building to their three children.

“We gave it to them a long time ago,” Joann Ellis interjected, looking up from her stack of papers.

Their business mostly runs on word-of-mouth advertising and listings on eBay and Craigslist. While the competition in the office furniture business keeps growing, the family is positive about the future of their company as long as they stay true to their values.

“Top notch people! They always offer excellent quality and value,” said one review on the Ellis-Van Pelt Inc. Facebook page.

The family hopes that improved housing and new developments in the area will also bring more people, so they can continue to run their business and maintain the building.

Tampa officials hope to expand downtown streetcar service

Tampa’s downtown dinosaurs could be transformed into modern and efficient means of transportation. The historic trolleys that connect downtown, Channelside and Ybor have seen a steady decline in passengers since 2009.

The trolleys start at noon on weekdays, making them more of a novelty than a necessity. Mayor Bob Buckhorn as well as the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, the entity that runs the streetcars, have been discussing expanding the system as well as extending hours and frequency.

“In an ideal world, we would be running the streetcar starting at 6:30 in the morning,” said HART CEO Katharine Eagan. “We’d run every 10 minutes in rush hour, maybe every 12 minutes, and a minimum every 15 minutes midday and the evening.”

The streetcars have a long history in Tampa Bay that began in 1892 back when the streetcar was a necessity. Ridership peaked in the 1920s, with over 24 million passengers in1926. The streetcar returned to Tampa in 2002 without the large number of riders.

“It’s absolutely possible to change the type of streetcar that we’re using and go with something with a more modern design,” Eagan said.

Downtown business owners, as well as HART, are interested in returning the streetcar to its former glory. The only problem is funding.


Swashbuckling Gasparilla Parade Brings Community Together


The annual Gasparilla Parade galumphed down Bayshore Boulevard last month with people wearing their favorite swashbuckling outfits and pirate jewels, anticipating one of the most attended celebrations in the area.

The community comes together for this event in grand fashion, and all of south Tampa turns into a scene from Tortuga out of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.  Pirate flags wave on doorsteps from Westshore to Bayshore, and streets fill up with scallywags primed for pillaging and plundering.

Nearly 1 million people showed up for the celebration downtown, and police were in full force, but that didn’t stop revelers from getting a little wild.  Spectators from all over the country showed up for the big event ready to party.

“You see everybody coming out; they’re sharing their beer, and they’re sharing their liquor, and it’s a Saturday everyone enjoys all together — not just as individuals but as a community,” said Adam Husarek, a spectator at the Gasparilla Parade. “The pirates come out and really remind us what a sense of community is.”

Being on the floats can be even more exhilarating, according to Scott Melanson, a member of the Krewe of Brigadoon, who helps build and maintain the floats.

“Being in a crew and walking down the parade with thousands and thousands of people is a rush.  It’s really, really cool,” Melanson said.  “The fun part is seeing everyone enjoy themselves, take a day off from reality and have fun with your friends.”

Gasparilla has defined Tampa Bay and its residents for a century.  Jose Gaspar would be proud of this city of Buccaneers.  The canons fired, booty was looted, and nobody ended up in Davy Jones’ Locker.  The Gasparilla Invasion was a success.

There is also a night parade and a parade children only.  A Gasparilla Music Festival will also take place in March.

Simplicity and Quality Help a Small Clearwater Store Last

A 3-foot sculpture of a rooster greets customers from its perch on the corner of the roof. Inside, more roosters rest on a shelf cluttered with old photos and licenses. This is where Milto Tagaras,  son to the original owners of John’s Produce, works as a partial owner.

John’s Produce has been a fixture in Pinellas County for over 37 years, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser website.  The store is currently stationed on the corner of Belcher and Nursery Roads in Clearwater. Tagaras credits their current location to a man, Mr. Logan, who sold the space to his parents at a young age. Tagaras said Mr. Logan had recognized John and Eva Tagaras as hard-working immigrants from Greece and agreed to sell them the location.

“We started out on Walsingham. Then we moved to where that bank is now,” said Tagaras pointing across the street. “Then over where Café Charlie is. We own that building. Then where the Shell station is now. Then to here. There’s heavy traffic. It’s a great area.”

Milto Tagaras holds a picture of his parents, John and Eva Tagaras, in front of their third location. The background shows the unfinished building that now houses Café Charlie.

Tagaras credits the success of the business to the relationship his father has made with farmers markets over the past three decades. He also added they have a simple philosophy when it comes to stocking  their produce.

“It’s a triple win. We buy premium product. It looks good, people will pay a fair price for it, and we never have to throw anything away, “ he said.

Customer Richard Brunelle agrees. Carrying his basket while talking to Tagaras about their different locations, Brunelle discussed how he has been coming to John’s Produce since the store moved to its third location over 15 years ago.

“I come here for the tomatoes. They are the best and the cheapest,“ said Brunelle.

When asked about the dry goods section of the store, Tagaras offers a more complicated explanation.  According to Tagaras, the request for specific imported items came after the beginning of the Kosovo War brought an influx of immigrants to the United States.


German and Croatian products on the shelves of John’s Produce. Rambutans on sale with the price handwritten on cardboard.

“At first, people would cosign the products they wanted from their home countries.” said Tagaras. As certain products became more popular, they would remain on the shelves.  Now products with German, Polish, Bosnian and Greek origin can be found throughout the store.

“People would be willing to pay $10 for the water they wanted. They wouldn’t drink Zephyrhills water, so they came here,” said Tagaras.

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The front entrance of John’s Produce.

The customers continue to return, including the owners from La Bella Eva Restaurant and King’s Food Mart, who come to buy fresh produce. Tagaras feels the business’ success comes from a simple place.

“The name Tagaras comes from ταγάρια. It’s the bags put on donkeys to take food to markets. It’s like how the name Miller comes from people who milled and Smiths worked with metal. We come from a line of people who do this.”



Postcard Inn offers character and food to St. Pete

Across the Gandy Bridge from the hustle and bustle of Tampa lies the more sedate Saint Petersburg. Drive past Deadman Key to the white, sandy stretch of St. Pete Beach and you can find the unique Postcard Inn on the Beach. St. Pete natives and hotel visitors simply call it the PCI.


The relaxed atmosphere immediately welcomes visitors to their home away from home. Inside the lobby, rope intricately tied in sailor’s knots hang from the ceiling alongside bare light bulbs. Painted skateboards and surfboards are nailed to the walls in colorful and eye-catching displays for the hotel’s guests to enjoy. A quote painted boldly over the lobby entryway reads: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” The PCI is so much more than a beachside boutique hotel. Continue reading “Postcard Inn offers character and food to St. Pete”

Bearss Groves Farmers Market Grows Over Time

Tampa Bay is home to many farmers markets, but Bearss Groves located on Lake Magdalene Boulevard in North Tampa has been around since 1894. The market sells a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables and homemade food.

Prior to becoming a farmers market, Bearss Groves was home to a giant orange grove that was eventually removed due to citrus greening and the Tristeza virus.

Marty and Louise Bearss, a Tampa foundation family, were the original owners of the market until 2006, when long time friends Barry and Courtney Lawrence took over.

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Spanish restaurant in Tampa still dances with tradition

 Ybor City’s Spanish and Cuban restaurant, the Columbia, was founded by Casimiro Hernandez Sr. in 1905. The Spanish traditions of the restaurant have been carried through family generations for over 100 years.

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“I enjoy the food here,” said Columbia customer Mark Anthony Puglio. “The food here is excellent. It always has been, since I was young.”

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Tampa Bay Brewing Company Expands

Tampa Bay Brewing Company is expanding their business with a new restaurant and brewery in Westchase. Construction is underway on site and the expected date of completion is spring of 2015.

The brewery will be 13,000 square feet and the indoor and outdoor restaurant will be a combined 7,000 square feet. It is nearly 16 times bigger than the brewery they are in now. The new brewery will feature six fermenters, two bright tanks, a water treatment facility and a complete packaging line.

“When we started designing this project the goal was to take what we have in Ybor, with a great restaurant and great food, and replicate it over here in the Westchase location,” said Mike Doble, owner of Tampa Bay Brewing Company.


The Tampa Bay Brewing Company offers up to 12 beers on tap at any one time. The most popular beer on tap is old elephant foot IPA which ranks in at 7 percent alcohol and has a very hoppy taste. Following closely behind is reef donkey which ranks in at 5.5 percent alcohol and has citrus notes.



It wouldn’t be a brewpub without food. Tampa Bay Brewing Company serves a lot of traditional pub dishes. Head Chef John Boyle is infusing several entrees such as their signature meatloaf and shepherd’s pie with the beer they brew. Each week they have a special menu for Friday and Saturday nights. Boyle prepares all the meat himself by trimming each piece. This week it was lamb.

“All of the food here is good,” Boyle said. “I mean it really is. Whatever palate is yours, I mean I don’t think anyone would come in this restaurant and it would be a hard decision for them of what they would want to eat,” said Boyle.


Customers can sign up for the mug club membership. Pay your annual dues and you will receive your own t-shirt and mug as well as discounts on the beer.


The Doble family started the brewpub back in 1995. Tampa Bay Brewing Company is the oldest brewpub in the state of Florida and it lies in Centro Ybor on 8th street. It features an indoor and outdoor seating area and you can check out the people making the beer because the brewery is located inside the restaurant. Once you open the two double doors, your nose is greeted with the great smell of beer.


Big John’s Barbeque Cooks Up Ribs That Keep You Coming Back


Tampa, Florida – The secret to keeping customers coming back for more than 42 years is simple to the Stephen’s family, “consistency.”

The family-owned business located on the corner of North 40th Street is known around the city for having a family-like atmosphere and most importantly, good barbeque ribs.

“Nobody cook ribs like Big John’s Alabama,” said customer Steve Patterson, “I’ve been coming here since 1975 and I’ve eat ribs all over the country, including Alabama and nobody’s ribs taste as good as Big John’s.”

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