By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
CLEARWATER — The first Williams Coffee Pub opened in Stratford, Ontario, in 1993, with the aim of offering coffee and affordable foods in pleasant surroundings where customers weren't kept waiting. Not fast food in the sense of burgers and hairnets, but food that, through the savvy use of technology, arrives pronto. The company grew to 47 locations in Canada before founders Bill and George Giannakopoulos came stateside to open BayCoast Coffee Market in Clearwater in August.
There are a couple of hurdles. First, it seems in Canada a "coffee market" means a quick-serve restaurant with multiple stations inside, not a place to buy roasted beans. Duly noted. And as operating manager Bill Davie laments, customers haven't quite figured out the mega-cool technology that is possible at BayCoast. As at the Canadian Williams locations, there are computers every 10 feet or so, enabling customers to swipe a card at different stations, buying a latte over here, a thin-crust pizza over there, the relevant calorie counts coming up on the screen to aid in decisionmaking. BayCoast will fully launch this option as soon as customers seem to get it. With a guest pager system letting people know when food is ready, it has the capacity to execute orders every bit as fast as McDonald's.
Until then, BayCoast is still a welcome addition, a 5,000-square-foot coffee bistro in the same vein as Panera, with nothing on the menu over $7.95. No table service (which means no tips), but with nice leather chairs and booths and good lighting, making it a lovely place to linger. Beyond a really good cup of coffee or barista drink, BayCoast's allures include delicious Cuban sandwiches ($7.95, and this from Canadians, go figure), lush housemade soups ($3.49) like one day's lobster bisque, heady with sherry, and a small handful of crisp, flatbread-like pizzas ($6.95) with toppings like sun-dried tomato, feta, black olive and red onion.
What may give BayCoast an edge on the competition is a reliance on all-natural ingredients (no preservatives, trans fats, etc.) and having on-staff bakers who start each day filling the ovens with buttery croissants, breads and cookies. A glass case has the added enticements of very competent cream puffs, cakes and other pastries. With the slick good looks of a new chain concept, BayCoast may be the first wave of a Canadian invasion.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.