Make us your home page

Republican convention more bust than boom for downtown Tampa restaurants


David Cullen figured his Quiznos restaurant downtown would be jammed during the Republican National Convention. He packed his freezer with extra food. He brought in more workers. Then the fence went up. Police erected the security barrier around his building adjacent to the police headquarters. To get to his restaurant, customers had to walk to the opposite end of the block and ask a police officer for access through a gate. No one did. By 11 a.m. Tuesday, Cullen sent his single employee home. By 1 p.m., he locked the door. "Would you really bother going through an armed guard just to get a sandwich?'' he said.

Cullen isn't the only downtown restaurant owner disappointed by business from the convention's estimated 50,000 visitors. Several complained of empty tables and idle employees. Most cried out for their regulars, who have fled downtown.

"Don't ever bring this here again,'' said Jeff Morzella, co-owner of Fresh, a breakfast and lunch cafe on Franklin Street. "We're ready to go, but there's no one here. It's brutal.''

Business at his restaurant was down about 75 percent on Monday, when convention officials canceled downtown events because of Tropical Storm Isaac. Tuesday, the first official day, wasn't much better. Two people came in for breakfast.

Morzella left at lunchtime, unhappy and frustrated.

"All our regular customers have been scared away,'' he said. "There's no one downtown."

Many owners complained that people stayed away because they didn't want to deal with the traffic or parking. The city blocked streets throughout downtown and eliminated parking meters on some of the main thoroughfares.

Samaria Cafe on Tampa Street planned to stay open for dinner but, aside from a few delegates, business hasn't warranted it. Owner Georgia Xanthoudakis remained hopeful crowds would swell as the week progresses but acknowledged she overestimated the convention's impact.

"I'm going to be very positive because this is a great thing for Tampa,'' she said. "But we did overstock and overstaff for it.''

Lynn Pham, owner of Bamboozle Cafe, said business was so slow she already had to throw away food and take a loss. She fears only restaurants that booked parties in advance will benefit from the event.

"We're hurting terribly,'' she said, profusely thanking two locals who came in for lunch on Tuesday. "It's painfully disappointing.''

Downtown coffee shops seemed to fare a bit better, enjoying a caffeinated boost from police and media to offset the loss of regulars.

"It's going well,'' said Katie Senkovich, manager of Indigo Coffee at Franklin and Twiggs Street. "We expected to be slammed, but it's better to be overprepared than underprepared.''

Even some restaurants in Ybor City — quite a distance from the convention zone — were feeling a bit snubbed.

When asked how business was going, Vicki Doble, co-owner of Tampa Bay Brewing Co., gave a big thumb's-down.

"I hope this does something for Tampa, because it's not doing anything for me,'' she said.

She had turned away some private parties to accommodate regulars but now regretted it. Sales over the weekend and early in the week were lackluster for August. Many locals have stayed away.

"It's tough, there's no question about it,'' she said. "I think people are a little afraid of the protesters.''

Carmine's restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Ybor has been steady for several days, enjoying business from regulars and RNC visitors. Orders for deviled crabs were up, said Gino Iavarone, who runs Carmine's and Market on 7th next door.

"Carmine's is a destination restaurant,'' he said. "We've been doing this for 31 years.''

The Tampa Downtown Partnership, which promotes local businesses, has heard mixed reviews from restaurants and blamed Monday's bad weather for the slow start.

"Some are doing well and some have not been doing well,'' said spokeswoman Donna Chen. "But the week isn't over.''

She anticipated people would go out to eat after Jon Stewart's tapings at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and parties at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. She also pointed out that famous politicians and media types were dining locally: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at Hattrick's and Fox News' Chris Wallace at Bernini's.

That comes as little solace to Cullen, the owner of Quiznos. He planned to stay closed until at least Friday, compounding his losses after an already exceptionally slow summer. And Monday is a holiday.

"I've been waiting for this for six months. I thought it was going to be great,'' he said. "But it has been a disaster.''

Republican convention more bust than boom for downtown Tampa restaurants 08/28/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 10:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Water Street Tampa unveils video showing downtown's transformation


    TAMPA — Water Street Tampa, the sweeping, 50-plus acre redevelopment project in Tampa's urban core, has unveiled new images and video of what the downtown district will look like upon completion.

    Strategic Property Partners released a conceptual image of what the Tampa skyline will look like once its redevelopment of 50-plus acres of downtown will look like. [Photo courtesy of  of SPP]
  2. Florida ranks high for workplace equality between men and women

    Working Life

    When it comes to the workplace, Florida ranks fifth in terms of gender equality, a WalletHub study released Tuesday found.

    Florida ranks high in terms of equality between men and women in the workplace. Pictured is Sandra Murman, county commissioner in 2015, talking about the differences in pay between men and women. | [Times file photo]
  3. Treasury secretary's wife boasts of travel on government plane, touts high fashion


    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's wife, Louise Linton, boasted of flying on a government plane with her husband to Kentucky on Monday and then named the numerous fashion brands she wore on the trip in an unusual social media post that only became more bizarre minutes later.

    Steven Mnuchin and his then- financee Louise Linton watch as President Donald Trump speaks during Mnuchin's swearing-in ceremony as  treasury secretary in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 13. [Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images]
  4. Ford, Chinese partner look at possible electric car venture


    BEIJING — Ford Motor Co. and a Chinese automaker said Tuesday they are looking into setting up a joint venture to develop and manufacture electric cars in China.

    In this April 23, 2016 photo, attendees take smartphone photos at a promotional event for Ford Motor Company ahead of the Auto China car show in Beijing. Ford Motor Co. announced an agreement Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017 with a Chinese partner to look into forming a joint venture to develop and manufacture electric cars in China. [AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein]
  5. Judge throws out $458,000 condo sale, says Clearwater attorney tricked bidders

    Real Estate

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold on Monday threw out the $458,100 sale of a gulf-front condo because of what he called an "unscrupulous" and "conniving" scheme to trick bidders at a foreclosure auction.

    John Houde, left, whose Orlando copany was the high  bidder June 8 at the foreclosure auction of a Redington Beach condo, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground,  during a hearing Monday before Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold.  [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times ]