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Downtown Tampa restaurant owners unhappy about fresh market, food trucks

Hundreds of people showed up Wednesday at the inaugural food truck rally at Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa. Some restaurateurs say events like this hurt them financially.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Hundreds of people showed up Wednesday at the inaugural food truck rally at Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa. Some restaurateurs say events like this hurt them financially.

TAMPA — The Friday downtown market began as a way to lure office workers out for everything from fresh crepes to handmade jewelry to jars of organic honey.

But four years later, more than a dozen restaurant owners say there's a problem: The food vendors at the weekly market are cutting into their Friday business.

Throw in Mayor Bob Buckhorn's monthly food truck rallies, they say, and it's a losing recipe.

"I feel like I'm getting stabbed in the back," said Fred Castro, owner of Spain restaurant, which has been downtown for 32 years.

Castro and other business owners met Thursday with officials from the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the nonprofit agency that puts on the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. market, which runs every Friday from October through May.

Some of them said their Friday lunch business during the market season is off more than 80 percent. They blamed both the location of the market, now on Twiggs Street, and the presence of food vendors.

The meeting already had been scheduled before Wednesday's first food truck rally at Lykes Gaslight Square Park, but several of the business owners said the timing couldn't be better.

"Food trucks destroy us," said Steve Xanthoudakis, owner of Samaria Cafe.

He said he couldn't compete pricewise with a food truck that sells a $4.99 gyro. The $7.49 he charges barely affords him a 70-cent profit, given the cost of running a restaurant, he said.

Bill Nelligar, co-owner of the Metro restaurant, said the problem is the combination of the Friday market and the Wednesday food truck rally.

"The food trucks would be a nonissue if we weren't already impacted by the downtown market," he said.

Nelligar and several others asked that the partnership do away with the food vendors and make it a true retail event. They also asked the group to move the event to Saturday mornings.

Officials with the partnership promised to take those ideas under consideration, but said those suggestions come with problems.

Tiffany Ferrecchia, market operations director, said the market is aimed at the lunchtime crowd, which has about an hour before they have to go back to the office. That means being able to eat while they circulate the market.

Christine Burdick, president of the downtown partnership, said the original target audience for the market four years ago was the 55,0000 employees in the downtown and surrounding areas. She said surveys of market customers suggest they will come back to the restaurants.

She said moving the event to Saturday may make sense — there are fewer employees and more residents downtown than four years ago — but that it would need more study.

At least one restaurant owner suggested other businesses need to improvise. Bryan Goodell has a different perspective, though: He owns not only Fresh restaurant, but also the Wicked 'Wiches food truck.

He said he was working the food truck Wednesday when he realized the line had about 60 people in it. People were starting to leave or keep walking.

He said he jumped off his truck and got his Fresh staff to start circulating through the park with menus. It worked.

Over at his restaurant, the line began to grow. "I had my best Wednesday ever," he said.

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

Downtown Tampa restaurant owners unhappy about fresh market, food trucks 11/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 11:40pm]
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