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.

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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.

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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.

Continue reading “Bearss Groves Farmers Market Grows Over Time”

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.”

Continue reading “Spanish restaurant in Tampa still dances with tradition”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Continue reading “Big John’s Barbeque Cooks Up Ribs That Keep You Coming Back”

Man finds comfort in exploration of gender identity

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He usually shaves his eyebrows and facial hair, uses a credit card to better blend in the makeup and powder blush that highlight his cheekbones.

While he puts his flashy eye makeup on he pauses, squints and purses his red lips. He likes to try different poses, like popping out his hip or flirtatiously putting his fingertips on his rosy cheek.

The process is therapeutic to him. He likes to take his time and closely observe himself. With a makeup brush, he traces the lines of his skinny face, his prominent nose and his pouty lips.

When he is done, Brandon Shuford has transformed himself into India Mirage, his sparkling drag queen persona.

Continue reading “Man finds comfort in exploration of gender identity”

Old Tampa cigar factory repurposes property, emerges as community cornerstone

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A historic three-story brick building has become a hot spot for artists in Tampa.

Santaella Studio for the ArtsBuilt in 1904 by wealthy cigar maker Antonio Santaella, the building was the home of the Santaella Cigar Factory.

The Santaella Cigar Factory was not only known for being one of the largest and most Babe Ruth at Santaella Cigar Factoryefficiently equipped factories in the city, but also for being Babe Ruth’s favorite place to stock up on cigars.

 

After being vacant for four years, Gray Ellis never thought he’d come to be the owner of such a factory.

Continue reading “Old Tampa cigar factory repurposes property, emerges as community cornerstone”

Taco Bus conquers Tampa with its popular Mexican food truck

 

Taco Bus provides Tampa with a unique and authentic dining experience while bringing a little bit of Mexico to the area.

It all started with a single bus 20 years ago. Today, Taco Bus restaurants still offer the same food the owner from Mexico served when he first opened his small business.

“He basically changed the name, added a food truck to it, and now, we’re at five locations,” said Aaron Lucas, the general manager of Taco Bus in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The modern food truck trend began in 2008 in California. Since then, it has made its way eastward. Taco Bus was one of the first original food trucks in St. Petersburg. Lucas even thinks it might now be the most famous food truck in Florida.

Continue reading “Taco Bus conquers Tampa with its popular Mexican food truck”

Datz some good food in Tampa

 

Land O’ Lakes resident Matt Casey travels to South Tampa at least once a month in order to eat at Datz, the local restaurant, bar, and market place.D1

“We just like that feel of being a neighborhood hangout, part market, part restaurant” said Roger Perry, Datz D5co-owner

Datz began serving customers in 2009 and creates dishes such as sandwiches with their home made chips, fried chicken, shrimp and grits and their famous meat loaf which is featured on the Travel Channel.

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“I like the quality of the food and the portion sizes, they’re pretty big” said customer Matt Casey. “Their sandwiches are the best. It’s just good food”

“We call it upscale comfort food” said Perry. “We’re famous for our meatloaf where we take mac and cheese bits and stuff it inside a meatloaf.”

TP_304663_DEAN_DATZ_1Datz has dine-in seating, including tables that can accommodate families of 10 and a back room for private parties. In addition, Datz has two bars which serve beer, wine, and spirits.

“We specialize in beer and bourbon” said bartender Patrick Devries. “We have 30 something different craft beers on tap at all times.”D4

Datz offers many spirits and seasonal drinks that General Manager and Bar Programmer Morgan Zuch creates. In addition to the actual bar, Datz has a large collection of beer tap handles that are on display in the lower bar.

Perry and his wife, other co-owner Suzanne Perry, said the name was created all around the letter ‘z’.

“I always liked the letter ‘z’” said Roger Perry. “The business I retired from was called Petzazz, a popular deli in Columbus is Zingerman’s. So I knew I wanted to start with the ‘z’”.

In 2014, Datz expanded and took over the building next doorD7 where they opened their sister store and bakery, ‘Dough’. Both establishments are open seven days a week and can be found on MacDill Avenue in South Tampa.

Goody Goody, a slice of Tampa’s history to reopen

TAMPA, Fla.– Tampa’s longtime residents will once again take a bite of a burger, or a slice of pie, from the iconic Goody Goody restaurant. Former co-owner, Mike Wheeler, recently sold the restaurant and hopes its history continues.

“One of the motivating reasons of my selling it was that I wanted to see the Goody Goody remain a Tampa tradition,” Wheeler said.

The restaurant is now owned by businessman Richard Gonzmart.

“To sell it to somebody that we felt had high integrity and knew the restaurant business,” Wheeler said. “I think we found just the right person.”

Richard Gonzmart, the co-owner of Columbia Restaurant, used to visit Goody Goody, bringing food home to his family every Sunday. Michael Kilgore, chief marketing officer at Columbia Restaurant, says preserving the business was Gonzmart’s rescue mission.

“He wanted to try to preserve it and so as soon as it happened he started talking to Michael Wheeler about trying to buy the rights to it,” Kilgore said.

Goody Goody was first a drive-in restaurant, giving curb-side service from 1930 until 1984. The curb-side service was removed in late 1984.

A design has not been drafted yet, but it will continue as a family dine-in restaurant. As per the menu, the famous burger “POX”, pickles, onions, and secret sauce, is impossible to replicate, making it unique.

“They’re so unique and different and it’s just not like the hamburger with lettuce and tomato that you find in so many places,” Wheeler said. “They always go with a special…it’s called a ‘POX’, which stands for pickles, onions, and X, that sauce.”

Yvonne Freeman, also known as “the hamburger queen”, worked the last 46 years until 2005 as the manager and the official baker of those delicious pies.

The new location will open in South Tampa sometime in 2015.

Unique Gifts For College Greeks

Phyllis Grae-Nielson has just finished celebrating the 27th anniversary of Greek Unique, her fraternity and sorority based store. Located near the University of South Florida in Tampa, Greek Unique also serves the University of Tampa, St. Leo University and Florida Southern University.

Greek Unique offers hundreds of gift items for almost every fraternity or sorority. However, they are best known for their classic jerseys and made-to-order items.

“We have a lot of different options, we have about 208 different fabrics so people can come in and choose the fabric that we have and they can also bring in their own fabric,” said Cali Sanford, the store manager.

What makes Greek Unique so special is that everything that is made to order, besides the garments, is made by hand. The fraternity and sorority letters that are sewn onto the jerseys are hand cut and put together.

“The main things that we do are double stitch and embroidery, so double stitch is the twill letters that you see that go across most of the people’s shirts and the embroidery is just standard embroidery,” said Sanford.

Greek Unique is also a family-based business. The store was first opened by Grae-Neilson and her two daughters, both USF Alumni. Now it is run by Grae-Neilson and her husband Alistar Nielson, who does the embroidery.

“This is what I’ve been doing for 27 years, and I love it,” said Grae-Nielson.

Greek Unique is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m.  to 6 p.m. and is located at 5025 East Fowler Avenue.

Heroes’ Haven Comics celebrates Halloween ComicFest

Halloween ComicFest is celebrated the Saturday before Halloween in designated comic shops around the world. Since 2012, Halloween Comicfest allows comic book fans to get involved in new comics by handing out free specialty Halloween comics ranging from Batman to Archie to My Little Pony. Most comic stores simply hand out free comics, but Heroes’ Haven Comics puts on an exhibition inviting families and fans. Heroes’ Haven Comics, a “Best of the Bay” winner, brings local and big name artists to the event for signings and commission work. They even hold a costume contest.

Coral Skies Music Festival entertains with national headliners Cage the Elephant

The Coral Skies Music Festival brought talented musicians, gifted artist and delicious food to Tampa on Saturday Oct. 25. With headliners such as Cage the Elephant and Bombay Bicycle Club, Coral Skies provided an experience that pleased fans that were still reminiscing about Big Guava. The real stars of the festival were the fans that each had an interesting story about what Coral Skies meant to them and turned a music festival into it’s own world.

Brickworld Tampa 2014 shows off amazing Lego creations

Brickworld was held the past weekend at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. LEGO enthusiasts were encouraged to attend and to bring the kids for a wonderful learning experience and chance to build your own creations. People of all ages roamed the isles to get a better look at the exhibits. LEGO engineers came together to form teams and were happy to finally show off their work at the Brickworld Exhibition.

On The Streets: Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks

The sponge industry saved the Greek community of the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks, providing them a place to share their handmade items, food and culture. (Photo by Elizabeth Engasser)
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