DUNEDIN — Tina Avila, along with her husband, Javier, just opened the third of her Dunedin restaurants — the Orange Crate Cafe, a breakfast and lunch place located in the old boxcar that abuts the Pinellas Trail in downtown Dunedin.
Just off Main Street, the cafe features a bright orange awning, potted herbs and new seating arrangements.
Avila and her husband opened Casa Tina, a Mexican restaurant on Main Street, some 22 years ago and later added Pan y Vino, a pizzeria, also on Main Street.
Although those two restaurants have been successful, Avila said she saw room for even more possibilities.
"Downtown Dunedin still has a lot of niches needing to be filled," said Avila, 46. "We need sustainable businesses, and one of those is securing local food sources."
To that end, Avila and her husband have taken on a working partner, Bree Cheatham, 38, who has operated the Dunedin Harvest Food and Garden Co-op for the past five years.
When the opportunity came to purchase this cafe, Avila said, she thought of Cheatham.
"Bree and I have been working together to grow awareness of her food co-op and local food growers in general," she said.
Cheatham, who serves as an educator by talking to diners about the health benefits of the menu, has lots of recipe ideas that Javier Avila, the restaurant's chef, executes.
"We grow sprouts, onions, carrots and other veggies," she said of the co-op, "and incorporate all of those into the salads and sandwiches here."
Breakfast is a light repast for now — coffee or tea and an assortment of muffins. The lunch offerings are fresh, healthful and varied, with plans to keep adding additional foods. Diners munch on gluten-free salads with buckwheat noodles or quinoa, a high-protein grain, laced with seasonal greens, olives, onions and sometimes organic feta cheese.
A vegetable platter comes with a dill dip and hummus. Most wraps are made from sprouted grain and contain various vegetable combinations, but one includes a Thai chicken peanut filling using hormone-free chicken.
"I think people are looking for a way to access organic and local foods," Avila said.
An array of fresh pastries and muffins is currently baked at Sweet Caroline's, a family bakery in Palm Harbor.
Avila has altered the ambience of the old boxcar, which previously served as a coffee bar for users of the Pinellas Trail. Now, a bright mural on the outside of the car features a vivid green and orange scene with a joyful bike rider and rows of orange trees. The restaurant's name is emblazoned in orange on the mural.
Seating has greatly expanded as well. Inside, a small breakfast bar seats five. Outside, diners can sip coffee or eat a full lunch at three long wooden tables with benches along the boxcar side and chairs along the trail side.
Nearby stands a small wrought-iron table with four matching chairs under a bright orange umbrella.
Avila is encouraged. In the space of a few weeks, the place has gotten busy enough to require some part-time help. She is thinking ahead and hopes to include bike rentals for visitors to the trail, who can buy a picnic lunch and head for a beach or a local park. She also wants a beer and wine license and plans to expand hours to include weekend evenings.
Fundraising for some favorite causes, such as the Dunedin Historical Society right next door and the Dunedin Harvest Food and Garden Co-op, also is slated.
"Everything just came together," Avila said of her new cafe. "It's been hugely successful so far and has offered us a chance to work with Bree, helping people find easier ways to access organic and local foods."
Correspondent Elaine Markowitz can be reached at [email protected]