Make us your home page

Fancy, funky coffee shops dot downtown St. Petersburg's landscape

ST. PETERSBURG — As downtown has morphed from a sleepy backwater to a trendy hot spot, its crop of utilitarian coffee shops has given way to more stylish cafes.

"It used to be we were the only one in the tradition of the coffeehouse," said JoEllen Schilke, owner of the Globe Coffee Lounge. "For a place to have a proper downtown, it needs a lot of coffeehouses."

Downtown is gaining a number and diversity of places to caffeinate and cogitate. Not only are there four Starbucks franchises appealing to the downtown crowd, but a host of independent stores have cropped up, from the Euro-styled Kahwa to hippie-green Local Tea and Coffee.

"We get an eclectic mix of people in here," said Kyle DeStefano, manager of Local, which has a staff all under age 25. "My idea of a cafe is tied to the '60s, more of a conscious conversation."

Local also has organic food, often made from locally grown ingredients. Most shops have food, from pastries to full meals, but the coffee is the lure.

"Coffee is more of a motivator, but it's not biggest in sales," said Schilke, who offers muffins, sandwiches, soups, even beer and wine.

Another of the older stores that emphasizes food is Daily Grind, which Stephanie Gall took over from a coffee-only stop nine years ago in the Plaza Tower Courtyard near BayWalk. The downtown boom helped Gall but has also brought competition.

"I was busy for the construction guys on BayWalk," she said, "but then there was Starbucks and Atlanta Bread and others. Everyone was so excited about the new places, it ate my lunch."

Menus differ and so do clients, but the one commonality is time. In a Type A world, some people long to linger.

"It's a very European thing to do," said Jean Thibault, part of the Kahwa ownership that also has a coffee roasting and wholesale business serving restaurants and even other coffee shops.

Thibault said the coffeehouse culture has evolved. When he and his partners had a similar business in Philadelphia years ago, there were no cafes with outdoor seating. Then one started it and the next thing you know, "everyone's out on the terrace."

Farther west downtown are other coffee spots like Cafe Bohemia, but even Emma's Rose and its English tea fit the bill of the third space to meet or meditate.

"Starbucks is nice, but it's a different atmosphere," said Gabi Ford, the German chef of the tea shop with a feminine bent. "There aren't that many places where women can get together anymore."

Coffee, even fancy coffee, is available almost everywhere now, from tea shops like Emma's to the Paciugo gelato store. Schakolad, a chocolate shop, garners some of the coffee culture in its own way.

"We make the same drinks, like mocchachino, but we use our chocolate," said Tess Lecato, who owns the Schakolad franchise with her husband, Mark. Even her shop gets people who visit for a long sip. "They come in and sit and read the paper. Even families come in together on weekends," she says.

Schilke said coffeehouses survive not so much on coffee or food but on providing a different experience.

"People like to hang out at places that aren't a bar and aren't a restaurant," she said. "We have people who come in and stay for hours and hours, which is fine."

But then the coffee shops of old, with counter seating and a fry cook, were places where people congregated, back when they had more time to do so. That vibe lives on at Central Coffee Shop, which has been pouring joe and serving short order for 33 years.

Paul Swider can be reached at [email protected] or 892-2271.

Old-school coffee shop keeps going

John Mangels started Central Coffee Shop when downtown was a shell and ran his old-fashioned lunch-counter business throughout redevelopment. Surrounded by gentrification, he maintained the basics and kept a loyal following. Mangels died Sunday, but the shop goes on.

On Monday, Mangels' three daughters, Nicole, 24, Michelle, 22, and Cassie, 20, were back at their stations serving longtime customers.

"He would have wanted them to be open," said Chris Mangels, John's ex-wife with whom he opened the lunch counter in 1975.

Mangels said her ex-husband had been ill for some time and handed over ownership and daily operation of the shop to his daughters about three years ago. When John Mangels died at age 51, it was expected, she said, but sad nonetheless. Chris Mangels, who no longer works in the shop, was helping her daughters greet well-wishers.

Mangels said some of the customers who came in when the couple started the business still show up, same time, same table, same order.

"It was a downhome mom-and-pop-style place," she said. "It was like a Cheers but in downtown St. Pete."

Like any other day, though, Nicole is at the grill while Michelle and Cassie serve the customers.

Fancy, funky coffee shops dot downtown St. Petersburg's landscape 04/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 10:02am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  2. New York town approves Legoland proposal


    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  3. Jordan Park to get $20 million makeover and new senior housing

    Real Estate


    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which bought back the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex this year, plans to spend about $20 million to improve the 237-unit property and construct a new three-story building for …

    Jordan Park, the historic public housing complex, is back in the hands of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The agency is working to improve the 237-unit complex. But the latest plan to build a new three-story building for seniors will mean 31 families have to find new homes. [LARA CERRI   |   Tampa Bay Times]
  4. Coming soon at two Tampa Bay area hospitals: a cancer treatment that could replace chemo


    A new cancer treatment that could eventually replace chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants — along with their debilitating side effects — soon will be offered at two of Tampa Bay's top-tier hospitals.

    Dr. Frederick Locke at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa is a principal investigator for an experimental therapy that retrains white blood cells in the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved these so-called "CAR-T" treatments for adults this month. In trials, 82 percent of cases responded well to the treatment, and 44 percent are still in remission at least eight months later, Locke said. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Regulator blasts Wells Fargo for deceptive auto insurance program


    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.

    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images, 2017]