Sunday, April 22, 2018
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Tampa Bay area restaurants pursue different strategies of attracting RNC crowds

With 65 days to go, Tampa Bay restaurants are mobilizing for the Republican National Convention. Twenty-one restaurants are included in the list of 70 venues identified as potential delegation hosts (for a full list, go the convention guide) many fully booked at this time.

But the rest of Tampa Bay's restaurants have had a decision to make: Close to the public and rent the space out to private parties, or keep the doors open to reservations from the general public.

Some restaurants have designed special RNC websites and social media presences to appeal directly to the more than 50,000 visitors anticipated in August, whether in groups or individually (see Ceviche's Facebook page).

A number of heavy hitters have chosen the latter, from Bern's Steak House to recent James Beard nominee the Refinery. In fact, owners Michelle and Greg Baker announced yesterday that they are expanding hours extensively from Aug. 20 to Sept. 1, open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m.

"We will be a friendly house for all people visiting Tampa during the RNC," Michelle Baker said. "We really want to put a good foot forward, welcoming everybody who is in town. Most of the visitors will be here to work (a lot) and we are a working-persons' venue. Menus will represent Tampa, our farms and comfort. Because everybody needs comfort away from home."

To that end, the Bakers are putting together a "dream team" of chefs, importing former Tampa chef James Canter (MFA Cafe and others), who has been working as an executive chef in Texas, and recruiting Jason Kline, most recently executive chef of the just-closed Bin 27 Bistro. Greg Baker will even be enlisting the services of a "long-lost buddy" from culinary school in Oregon.

The team aims to begin planning on Monday, hashing out details of staffing, refrigeration and sourcing.

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