Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Flicks & Food Trucks help Tampa's Channel District achieve its hip, urban image

CHANNEL DISTRICT — Four years ago, when Jacob Williams and Zoe LeCain moved into a condo at Grand Central at Kennedy, they had to leave their neighborhood to eat and run errands.

Then a dry cleaner opened. Then, finally, a bar, the Pour House.

But it wasn't until Flicks & Food Trucks began in November that they felt like the area lived up to its vibrant, urban image.

"It's something everyone looks forward to,'' LeCain, 25, said of the monthly event. "We talk about it in the elevator ahead of time, then the day after we're all bummed because it won't happen for a while.''

Tampa Bay Markets puts on Flicks & Food Trucks the third Thursday of every month in the courtyard of Grand Central and adjacent Madison Street. The Tampa Bay Arts & Education Network shows several short movies on a big screen. Tampa Bay Markets brings in 15 food trucks selling fried avocado, grouper sliders and other mobile mouthfuls.

The party attracts hundreds of people every month, most of whom live within walking distance in Grand Central and other Channel District condos and apartments. They come for the movies and entertainment but mostly for the diverse food and cool scene.

"It's a younger, hipper crowd,'' said Kevin Dunn, owner of the American Wiener truck. "They aren't scared to spend money to try new things.''

Dunn sells more than 100 dogs a night, from traditional chili dogs to ones with piccalilli relish. His most popular? The Capone topped with mustard, onion, wild cucumber and hot peppers.

Businesses around the courtyard equally cheer the event. Pour House owner James Vrabel said Flicks & Food Trucks is his busiest night of the month. A lot of first-timers end up coming back on other nights.

Terry and Dolly Riney, owners of Eleventwenty Cafe Bistro and Be Seen Dry Cleaners, said fears that food trucks would take away business never materialized. In fact, many people who eat at the food trucks stop in later for dessert or a latte.

"It's been great for awareness,'' said Terry Riney, who opened the bistro in January. "Not everyone gets to this part of town — maybe downtown, but not this part. This brings them here.''

The arts and education network chooses the flicks from entries in its annual Independents' Film Festival. All are created by student and indie filmmakers, many of them from Florida. Next week's lineup includes about a dozen short films and animations, from Rhapsody, about a world where everyone is described by the color they wear, to The Connection, about an insecure young man who meets a cute girl at a bus stop.

Flicks & Food Trucks was just what developer Ken Stoltenberg envisioned when he built the 392-unit Grand Central, the event's main sponsor. He initially considered a farmers market but decided the area had enough of them, between the Ybor City Saturday Market and the downtown Tampa market on Fridays. Indie movies and all-the-rage food trucks seemed like a unique way to bring together locals.

Tampa Bay Markets, which also organizes markets in Seminole Heights, Hyde Park Village and the Shops at Wiregress in Wesley Chapel, plans to continue the Channel District events at least through the end of the year. The group is seeking sponsorships to expand, said Tampa Bay Markets co-owner Tiffany Ferrecchia.

Ultimately, Stoltenberg hopes outsiders will come to Flicks & Food Trucks, fall in love with the neighborhood and ask about buying or renting nearby. Maybe then, the Channel District could get what everyone wants: a grocery store.

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