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.”

Local martial arts gym offers training in many fighting styles

World Class Martial Arts is the place to train if you’re looking for a gym that features a little bit of everything. Located in Tampa, World Class Martial Arts offers all the fight styles you’re looking for in order to become a complete, well-rounded fighter, including boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, taekwondo and many more. The gym is led by head instructor Ralph Garcia, who possesses a list of noteworthy accomplishments in the martial arts realm, which is why Garcia feels World Class Martial Arts is one of the premier gyms in the Tampa Bay area.

“I have four black belts right now. I have a 4th degree black belt in taekwondo. I have a 1st degree black belt in Aiki jiu-jitsu. I have a 2nd degree black belt in American jiu-jitsu, and I have a black belt I recently received in Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” Garcia said. “I incorporate pretty much everything. My fighters are usually the most well-rounded fighters in the Bay area, probably.”

This year, the gym grew even stronger by adding another world-class martial arts instructor for their fighters to learn from. With the addition of Judo instructor Marc Maciel, he believes his fight style transitions very easily to MMA.

“Judo is a quick, safe way of teaching jiu-jitsu,” Maciel said. “Once you get your black belt, then you have the rest of the techniques of jiu-jitsu included, and kicks, punches, as well as weapons.”

World Class Martial Arts has trained fighters who have become commercially successful in the sport. Luis Zequeira, an undefeated professional MMA fighter training at World Class Martial Arts, credits his recent success to Garcia and his gym.

“If it wasn’t because of him and the whole team and the other teammates and everyone, you know, we wouldn’t be where we’re at right now as one of the best gyms in the state of Florida,” Zequeira said.

Zequeira isn’t the only student who feels that way. Sarah Kleczka, an amateur MMA fighter at World Class Martial Arts,  believes her gym is best place to train in the area.

“I feel like that our fighters come so much further, so much (more) quickly,” Kleczka said. “I feel like we get all sorts of training and not just one part of training, but we get it all.”

So if you’re an upcoming fighter and looking for a place to train and get in shape in the Tampa Bay area, check out World Class Martial Arts and see if it’s the right place for you.

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USF Opens Floor to Pulitzer Prize Winner

Pulitzer Prize winner Lane DeGregory spoke to students at the University of South Florida Monday about her journey through journalism, and gave advice to future professionals, such as talking to someone before writing your story, even if it’s your dog.

In 2009, DeGregory’s article “Girl in the Window,” a story about a feral child who was rescued and adopted, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing and immediately made a big impact on her life. After the article’s first day on the Tampa Bay Times website, it crashed because of so many views. Through her signature storytelling technique, DeGregory hooked readers and shared the moving tale.

“When I started reporting that story, it was going to be a Mother’s Day story,” DeGregory said. “It was going to be like a Sunday centerpiece story for Mother’s Day and it was a good story, but I had no idea how big it would get.”

While most news stories are cut and dry, DeGregory’s genre of writing provides readers with one person to follow through a journey. She covers an event by following one person’s experience and turning it into a narrative that evokes emotion from her audience.

“Anytime I see her byline in the paper, that’s the first thing I read,” said Wendy Whitt,  Writing for Mass Media instructor at USF.

DeGregory’s writing style has expanded the typical breaking news event into a heartfelt chronicle that makes the reader feel something, while still providing relevant information.

“I never really thought of journalism as human interest,” said USF student Caylie Rowe, 19.

DeGregory, who has more than 25 years of experience,  shared advice from her life in journalism, like not getting lost in your notes when trying to write a story. She also shared her technique of talking to someone about your article before writing it. DeGregory especially stressed the importance of internships.

“Work in your field,” she said. “Even if it’s unpaid, it’s going to help launch you into that career, and into a job that’s going to get you a salary.”

DeGregory chose her college, University of Virginia, not because it had a great journalism program, but because of the daily student-run newspaper that was ranked in the top 10 of the country. Although students should strive to get good grades, DeGregory explains that her employers always wanted to see experience in the field.

Through all her hard work and passion, DeGregory has fulfilled her childhood dream.

“Since I was 5 years old, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a journalist,” she said.

As a young child growing up in Washington, D.C., DeGregory fell in love with journalism during the Watergate scandal. Every morning her father would read the Washington Post to her and her sister while they ate breakfast.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, that is the coolest thing in the world, these two young reporters taking down the president of the United States,’” said DeGregory.

DeGregory would love to have a story in The New Yorker and check that item off her bucket list. In the meantime, she is working on a book proposal, which she has never done before. The book will be about one of her articles on Zeke, the dog who saved his owner on several occasions.

“Somebody cares, and if you can find that person that cares, and you kind of sort of get into their head or inhabit their body, and get a little bit of their backstory about why they care, then you’re going to make readers care, and you’re going to make them connect,” said DeGregory.



Florida Focus 02-10-2015

In today’s episode of Florida Focus: doctors say St. Pete man is too incompetent to stand trial; Jeb Bush releases thousands of e-mails to the public; Home Depot adds over a thousand jobs to the Tampa Bay market; Feeding America Tampa Bay teams with the State Fair; the USF women’s basketball team makes history.



Video: Leto High boys basketball on the upswing

The Leto High School boys basketball team hadn’t won more than four games in a season since the 2005-06 season. This immediately changed when coach Mike Heben came to Tampa from Cleveland in 2013 and the Falcons finished the season with a 5-19 record.

While coaching is widely considered the first attribution to the team’s success, the talent on this team should not be overlooked.

Leto’s standout player is junior guard David Jones, who is averaging 24 points and nine assists per game.

“I do everything,”Jones said. “I’m not just a scorer. I use my talent to lead by example for my teammates.”

Helping Jones with the leadership of the team is senior guard Joe Bergollo.

Heben recruited Bergollo off Leto’s baseball team midway through last season. Heben said Bergollo, who previously had no basketball experience, quickly stepped up and set an example for his teammates.

“I’m looking to win, and I think this attitude is contagious to my team,” Bergollo said.

This team has come a long way under Heben’s guidance. With a team of mostly inexperienced players, sticking to a playbook of 10 plays has allowed the Falcons to progress toward their goal of a winning season for the first time in eight years.

Jones said that the family dynamic of the team has been the driving force behind its progress.

“We’re a family, both on and off the court,” Jones said.

That chemistry has helped earn Leto a spot in the district tournament, which started Feb. 2.

This would be Leto’s first Class 6A, District 9 title since 1997.

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.

Pedestrian, motor vehicle accidents pose safety risks to USF students


The most dangerous part of attending college is the journey to campus. Students who walk, bike or board to class face a higher risk for injury or death.

“It’s a combination of things,”said Chris Daniel, assistant police chief at the University of South Florida. “Part of the problem is, people come here and look at the university as a protected environment, not just in personal safety but safety with valuables and everything else.

“We are part of the bigger community around us. We have vehicles that travel through here that have no affiliation with USF whatsoever, but it’s an easy way to get from Fletcher to Fowler, so people just cut through.”

In 2011, there were 38 pedestrian and bicycle related crashes within a 1.5-mile radius around and including USF’s campus.

There are five apartment complexes, two campus entrances and several bus stops on 50th street, a high-traffic area for students.

Earlier this school year, 19-year-old Elizabeth Courtney was crossing 50th Street on her way to class when she was struck and critically injured by a Nissan Altima. The driver, Earnest Washington, was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian within a marked crosswalk.

In 2012, 4,743 people were killed in pedestrian/motor vehicle related accidents, which equates to more than 12 deaths per day. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 66% of pedestrian deaths were at non-intersections.

At the beginning of each semester, USF hosts Bulls Walk/Bike Week to encourage healthier living, reduction of greenhouse gasses and safer transportation for students to and from campus. But according to some students, not enough is being done.

“It might take these people who are affected, like me, to complain about it, because it’s just too dangerous,” said Tanisha Roberts, an ON50 resident.

Flu season keeps blood donors home, increases demand for supply

Blood drive donations are low due to the hurting blood supply in the Tampa area. Having the flu is bringing our blood collection services down with it.

“If you currently have the flu, you can’t donate,” OneBlood nurse Alesia Williams said. “If you have the flu vaccine and don’t have the flu you can … but normally we have a shortage of a lot of the negatives. The negatives are normally in shortage because it’s the universal donor, and anyone can take that.”

OneBlood donation service desperately needs healthy donors, particularly those with the universal type, O negative.

“A lot of times it’s the O negatives, A negatives, B negatives — those are a lot in shortage because we use those a lot,” Williams said.

Too many people are home sick with the flu, causing blood donations to decrease.

“Actually, there is a huge flu outbreak right now, but I’m here and I’m healthy, so I’ll keep going with it,” said University of South Florida student Lauren Greene.

Healthy people 16 or older who weigh at least 110 pounds are the ideal donors.

USF’s Tampa campus has two OneBlood vehicles, at the Sun Dome and the Marshall Student Center.

“It’s really convenient to have these buses here,” Greene said. ”I live on campus, so it’s really easy to get here. I don’t have to travel, and you shouldn’t be driving cars after anyway, just in case something goes wrong. So having them here makes it really easy to get here.”

Donors receive a mini check-up. Schedule an appointment at or call 1-888-936-6283.

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.

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.


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.”

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

Debating the Career Pathway: Experience vs. Education

As a rush of people flood out of the Westfield Citrus Park mall, a lone figure lags behind. Sticking out from the crowd, the man walks casually with a bright smile on his face . He exudes a level of happiness that contrasts those around him that angrily dash to their cars.

This smile belongs to Jacob Davis, a sophomore studying business at Hillsborough Community College, who is happily finishing up another day of work.

“It’s really amazing,” said Davis. “If you told me I would be doing all this a few years ago I would’ve never believed it.”

Davis does have one issue though. For the second time, he’s had to take a semester off from school.

Continue reading “Debating the Career Pathway: Experience vs. Education”

Buddy Brew roasts coffee uniquely to create art and culture


Established in 2010, Buddy Brew Coffee seeks to provide Tampa and its visitors with an unparalleled coffee experience. As a single origin roaster entirely in-house roasting, Buddy Brew features the highest quality beans, rather than blending different types of coffee.

“We only buy the highest quality coffee beans, and they come from all over the world. We just got some in today that came from Colombia,” says Roast Master Phil Holstein. “We’ll play with those until we figure out the best temperature to roast them at and how long, and then we go from there.”

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“Roasting in-house is something that most coffee shops don’t do anymore, but it allows us to listen to the customer and really pay attention to what they like and don’t like,” says Buddy Brew Coffee Owner Dave Ward. “We are also able to sample different coffees from around the world and really manipulate them to find which profiles work best for us.”

Buddy Brew is locally recognized for its talented baristas and unique decor. Each barista goes through specific training so they can make every cup of coffee a work of art. Even the coffee accessories are pieces of art.

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Dave Ward and his wife, Susan Ward, are both the founders and owners of Buddy Brew Coffee. Coffee has played a significant role in their relationship since it began, and they turned their love of coffee into a hobby.


“Buddy Brew Coffee was really born out of me and my wife’s passion for coffee,” says Ward. “As a matter of fact, the first thing I ever even bought her was a coffee maker. How romantic is that, right?”

Dave and Susan began roasting coffee beans at home and were shocked to find how much of a difference the freshness made on the taste of the coffee. They began sharing their coffee with family and friends, and soon the word spread and the demand for Buddy Brew Coffee required a full-time employee.

“Susan and I both quit our jobs and began to do this full-time. Four months later, we hired an intern, and he became our first employee and he’s our store manager today. His name is Josh Bonanno, and he’s a great guy. Today we have 40 employees, and that number keeps growing,” says Ward.

“I love working here because the customers are so nice and give so much positive feedback. It’s a great environment to be in, and you really get to build relationships with the people that come in here,” says Barista Gabrielle Hekhuis.

Buddy Brew recently added beer and wine to their menu, and extended their hours of operation. Buddy Brew has also added a “brew truck” that travels to local events and private parties. For more information, visit

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Survive and Thrive


Chris Roederer, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Tampa General Hospital

Chris Roederer grew up in Fern Creek, Ky., just outside of Louisville. He comes from a family of seven, including four siblings, his parents and himself. All his family is from the Fern Creek area. He graduated Fern Creek High School, and then attended Western Kentucky University. He graduated there with a bachelor’s in public relations and an emphasis on broadcast with a minor in communications. His wanted to be a broadcaster, so he studied journalism and broadcasting and worked at several radio stations while in college. In addition to his intellectual education, he was also working as a housekeeper by the age of 14 at his mother’s nursing home, where he was in charge of doing floors. He then worked as an orderly there and later at a hospital while attending college.

After graduating college, Roederer tried finding a job in public relations or broadcasting. This was in 1979, when unemployment rates were very high. To make ends meet, he worked with his father at the home store, American Standard, which was hard work. His job was to make sinks, which required the use of an 1800-degree furnace, working all night from 9:30 p.m. to 5:30 in the morning. Not only that, but he also continued to work at his mother’s nursing home as an orderly. After a while, however, he decided that he did not want that to be his job for the rest of his life, so he returned to graduate school in 1980 to study organizational communications with an emphasis on human resources.

Roederer went back to Western Kentucky. After studying for one year, he was only four classes short of his degree, but he already had four job offers from several companies, including Vesta Laboratories, Xerox, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Humana. In 1981, and Chris decided he wanted to go into healthcare, so he took the position with Humana, which was a training program to become a human resources administrator. His first job was in Orlando, which was intended to be a one-year training program. After six months, Humana offered him the position of director of human resources at 22 years old. Roederer was offered his first head of human resources (HR) job at a small hospital in Morristown, Tenn., which was his second hospital with Humana. The third hospital he worked at was in St. Petersburg, Fla., only ten months later. After three years, he transferred to a hospital in Louisville, where he worked part time as the director of HR and as an employee relations specialist for the corporate office.

The following year, Humana transferred him to a women’s hospital in Tampa, Fla.. Humana wanted him to look into the employee relations situation and union activity there. After straightening that situation out, Roederer spent three years there as a director, but soon he would have a career decision to make. St. Joseph’s Hospital was planning to buy Tampa Women’s Hospital, so he had to choose to either be unemployed or become the head of human resources at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, which was much larger hospital and the largest for-profit hospital in the country at that time. He worked there for three years until Humana asked him to go to Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, but he did not go there because of the cold weather.

While looking for other opportunities, Roederer received a phone call from a recruiter who asked him to look at a hospital in California. He took the position of vice president of Human Resources at the Eisenhower Memorial Hospital, The Betty Ford Center, the Sinatra Children’s Center and the Annenberg Center. He was the vice president for four years there.

After that assignment, he took a position doing executive compensation work for nonprofit health systems and working with boards. This would allow him time to spend with his daughter, who was growing up in Kentucky. He only had this position for a year and a half, due in part to the travel requirements. His job involved constant traveling, with over 500 flights in a year and a half and almost six days a week in transit. His area was supposed to be the southeastern United States, but he ended up travelling to places such as Oregon, San Francisco, Texas, Los Angeles, New Jersey and North Carolina.

In 1996, one of Roederer’s clients in Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center offered him the position of their first vice president of HR, where he stayed four years. He then received two job offers, one in Miami and the other at the City of Hope Clinical Cancer General in Duarte, Calif.. He was happy with his position at Moffitt but he was intrigued to work at one of the finest cancer centers in the world, so he took the position. He started out as senior vice president of HR. After over six years, his job evolved to include more responsibilities. He became chief corporate services officer, and his duties included HR, six unions, environmental services, dietary services, information technology, facilities, construction, safety, security, grounds, volunteer services and education. This covered nearly all of the support services, except finances, for the 102-building campus.

He wanted to return to Tampa when he noticed his parents were aging, so he asked around at the HR department at Tampa General Hospital (TGH) about opportunities. He already knew Ron Hytoff, the former chief executive officer of TGH, so he accepted the position of senior vice president of HR at TGH. Since then, he has stayed there for the past seven years.

In addition to his professional life, his personal life has been good, as well. He is married to Anita, a homemaker, with two sons, a daughter and their dog named Lily. He is active is his local church and because he wants to give back to the community, he is on the boards of several different organizations, including the Boy’s And Girl’s Club of Tampa, the AfterOurs Urgent Care Centers and is on the selection committee of the Outback Bowl. He is also active in fundraising for several organizations, including TGH.

One of his passions, which he works into his fundraising efforts, is his large collection of rare bourbon. He has a collection of over 120 bottles of the rarest bourbon around. He hosts bourbon tastings at his home, called Taste of Kentucky, and people from all over the world come to marvel at his collection.

Chris Roederer has a busy life and career but he loves reaching out to people. His motto is “survive and thrive.” He has made the Tampa Bay area his home for years now and he loves the area and all it has to offer. He even likes the area enough to want to end his career there.

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”