HipHopSodaShop drops plans for Fourth Street site in St. Petersburg

Plans for the HipHopSodaShop on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg ran into zoning complications. The company is scouting new locations.

BILL SERNE | Times file (2006)

Plans for the HipHopSodaShop on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg ran into zoning complications. The company is scouting new locations.

The second HipHopSodaShop will be in Miami, not the St. Petersburg location that was once to be first but lost that honor to Tampa.

The publicly traded health-food restaurant and music-themed video-gaming business was to have started last year at a site on north Fourth Street, but that location proved problematic and the company has now abandoned it altogether.

"H3 Enterprises has decided not to build at that particular site," said Dr. Ben Chavis, president and CEO of the restaurant's parent company. "But we do plan to open a store in St. Petersburg and in Clearwater."

Chavis said the company had a long-term lease on the former Chinese restaurant at 8901 Fourth St. N but is now negotiating with the owner to exit that contract. A sign on the property indicates it is on the leasing market again.

After spending about $150,000 on the Fourth Street site and running into zoning complications, H3 opted for a nearly turnkey location in Tampa and opened that store late last year.

"About 40 percent of our customers come from St. Pete," he said.

The Tampa store is run in partnership with H3 and area entrepreneurs Eric Green and Eric Von Billington, who had approached H3 last year about being the second store but moved up when Chavis wanted to move fast to satisfy investor concerns. Investors in H3 have closely followed the company's progress, hoping to cash in on the attempt to marry popular hip-hop culture and investment capital in a socially responsible entertainment venue.

Green, 49, runs Everyone's Youth United, a nonproft educational organization in Childs Park. He and Billington, 35, a Tampa video producer and political operative, had formed E&E Global Enterprises to manage the Tampa site.

Chavis said H3 has a commitment for a Miami site and expects that to open later this year. He said he hopes to find sites in St. Petersburg and Clearwater later this year and open those in 2009. H3 will begin rolling out franchises nationwide after that, but Chavis said he is using the Tampa location to finish the concept for expansion.

"We are perfecting the prototype," he said. "What is in Tampa is what will be replicated everywhere else."

H3 is shopping for new sites, Chavis said, and is especially interested in those it can open quickly with minimal construction needed. The Fourth Street site was delayed more than a year by significant renovations.

Chavis said the Tampa store is running well and embracing its mission of community involvement.

The restaurant already has been host to organizations from neighboring University of South Florida and will become involved with the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Chavis said.

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

HipHopSodaShop drops plans for Fourth Street site in St. Petersburg 03/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 1:52pm]

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